By Gauri Patel
Hundreds of thousands of Afghans are being forced to leave Pakistan as the country implements a nationwide crackdown on all undocumented or unregistered foreigners. The new order requires all people without legal documents to leave the country, though it primarily affects some 1.7 million Afghans living in Pakistan without documentation.
The Pakistani government set Nov. 1 as the deadline for unregistered foreigners to voluntarily leave the country or otherwise face arrest or forced deportation, according to The Washington Post. As the deadline has passed, many people have started to get deported back to Afghanistan.
“Today, we said goodbye to 64 Afghan nationals as they began their journey back home." Pakistan's interior minister, Sarfraz Bugti, wrote on X, posting a video of a group of Afghans boarding a bus. "This action is a testament to Pakistan's determination to repatriate any individuals residing in the country without proper documentation."
Hundreds of thousands of Afghans fled from their home country to escape the Taliban’s rule and have resided in Pakistan since their takeover in 2021. The majority of Afghans facing deportation were born in Pakistan or fled to the country decades ago as children.
“I was born in Pakistan, I’ve lived here for 42 years, I went to school in Pakistan,” a man named Nasim told CNN. “I’ve never been to Afghanistan.”
Families have been forced to leave their homes and businesses behind, fleeing in fear of being arrested. Migrants who have been detained have been taken to holding centers that have been established in Pakistan’s provinces.
Bugti previously cited security concerns as the reason behind the deportation order, claiming that 14 out of 24 major terrorist attacks carried out this year within Pakistan have been by Afghan nationals. The militant group known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, stepped up attacks in Pakistan in the last two years, and Islamabad has long accused the Taliban of supporting the TTP, an accusation the Taliban denies, according to NBC.
The order has been criticized by many international human rights organizations who believe it will cause a dire humanitarian crisis. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the move could give rise to a “human rights catastrophe” if those facing deportation return to Afghanistan. Concerns were raised over civil unrest in Afghanistan since the takeover by the Taliban, which may result in arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other inhumane treatment.
Many migrants fear the prospect of returning to a conflict-wracked nation from where they once fled, particularly for journalists, human rights defenders, former government officials, and women and girls. In the first weeks after the Taliban seized control, reporters were allegedly detained and brutally assaulted by authorities after covering a protest in Kabul, according to CNN. These factors combined with the steady deterioration of other human rights under the Taliban, such as girls being denied their right to secondary school or higher education, have heightened returning migrants’ concerns about what they will face in Afghanistan.
International bodies and human rights groups have called upon the Pakistani government to suspend the deportation order in addition to condemning the methods of enforcing the deportation order. Human Rights Watch claims the government allegedly used threats, harassment and detention to coerce Afghans without legal status to return to Afghanistan.
In a statement, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to the concerns of the OHCHR saying the country “takes its commitments towards protection and safety needs of those in vulnerable situations with utmost seriousness.”
The Afghan Taliban has also urged Pakistan to stop the deportation of immigrants, calling the process “against neighborliness customs and Islamic and humanitarian standards,” according to CNN.
Pakistan has rejected requests to suspend the deportation order, and, according to CNN, Bugti has confirmed the deadline will not be extended.