25 October 2023
The Pakistani government has approved the creation of several deportation centers for hundreds of thousands of Afghans living illegally in the country. Pakistan plans to arrest and send the Afghan nationals back to Afghanistan starting next month.
The government recently approved the Illegal Foreigners Repatriation Plan. It sets a November 1 deadline. The deadline is for all "illegal/unregistered foreigners" and those overstaying their visas. These groups are required to return to their countries. If they do not, they face deportation for breaking Pakistan's immigration laws.
Pakistani Interior Minister Sarfaraz spoke when the deadline was announced in early October. He said an estimated 1.7 million Afghans are among those facing deportation.
Official sources told VOA that special deportation centers would be established in four areas: Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Afghans detained in Punjab and Sindh will be moved to centers in the Rawalpindi and Karachi areas.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will have two deportation centers in Nowshehra and Chamkani. While Baluchistan will have three centers: one in the capital of Quetta, and others in the areas of Pishin and Qilla Abdullah districts. These two areas are on Pakistan's 2,600-kilometer border with Afghanistan. Most refugee families are in those areas.
The new plan empowers local administrations, police, and other officials to detain and deport Afghan nationals illegally living in the country. The plan also says that individuals charged with or on trial for minor crimes will be sent out of the country. It also says that those charged with or facing trial for "serious crimes" will not be sent back to Afghanistan.
Pakistan has promised to carry out the deportations in "a phased and orderly" way. It also said that it would not target the 1.4 million Afghan refugees living legally in the country. The government added it would not target 900,000 Afghan citizens who are registered in Pakistan as economic migrants.
The government has told law enforcement agencies not to harass legal refugees and those with Afghan nationality documents. However, Afghanistan's Taliban rulers and refugee families have claimed that some Afghans experienced abuse and mistreatment from the police.
The Taliban have called on Pakistan to reconsider the deportation plan, calling it "inhumane" and "unacceptable." However, they have recently set up special camps on the Afghan side of the border. The camps will provide immediate shelter, health care, food, and financial assistance to families returning from the neighboring country.
Officials in both countries have confirmed that tens of thousands of Afghans have voluntarily returned to their home country since Pakistan announced the deadline nearly a month ago.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Afghan television urged Pakistan to treat Afghan refugees "humanely" and extend the period of deportation. He asked all the refugees to return to their country. He said the Taliban has made Afghanistan into a "safer and better" place.
Taliban rule in Afghanistan
The Taliban seized power from a U.S.-backed government in August 2021. At that time, U.S. and NATO troops left the country after nearly 20 years of involvement in the Afghan war.
After the Taliban took over, hundreds of thousands of people fled to Pakistan. They feared punishment for their connections to Western forces. They included human rights defenders, former government officials, professionals, female activists and reporters.
Many have since moved to the U.S. and other Western countries. But thousands are waiting in hopes of immigrating to the United States or Europe.
The Taliban has enforced Islamic law in the country. The group has barred teenage girls from schools and many women from work. The restrictions mean many refugee families do not want to return to Afghanistan. They say their daughters cannot seek education or work in the country.
The United Nations has urged Pakistan to suspend its deportation plan. It warns the plan could mean Afghans will be subject to abuse by the country's ruling Taliban officials.
I'm Gregory Stachel.
Ayaz Gul reported this story for Voice of America. Gregory Stachel adapted the story for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
deport – v. to force (a person who is not a citizen) to leave a country
deadline – n. a date or time when something must be finished
source –n. a person who tells a reporter information
empower – v. to give official authority or legal power to (someone)
phased – adj. done gradually in steps and according to a plan
harass – v. to annoy or bother (someone) in a constant or repeated way
humane – adj. kind or gentle to people or animals
teenage – adj. between 13 and 19 years old