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Illegal immigrants left with less than 24 hours to leave Pakistan

Illegal immigrants left with less than 24 hours to leave Pakistan

طوبیٰ Tooba 9 months ago 0 3

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Trucks loaded with belongings are seen as Afghan refugees are returning home, after Pakistan gives the last warning to undocumented immigrants to leave, outside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) repatriation centres in Azakhel town in Nowshera, Pakistan October 30, 2023. — Reuters
Trucks loaded with belongings are seen as Afghan refugees are returning home, after Pakistan gives the last warning to undocumented immigrants to leave, outside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) repatriation centres in Azakhel town in Nowshera, Pakistan October 30, 2023. — Reuters
  • Illegal immigrants warned to leave voluntarily or face expulsion.
  • Pakistan hosted more than 4m Afghan refugees for last 40 years.
  • Over one million foreigners categorised as illegal, says PM Kakar.

The provincial and federal authorities are set to expel illegal immigrants who are left with less than 24 hours to leave Pakistan as the clock ticked down to the November 1 deadline set for the “aliens”.

Earlier this month, the Ministry of Interior had asked illegal immigrants to leave Pakistan voluntarily by October 31 (today) or face deportation.

The government maintained that the decision was not centric to only illegal Afghan nationals that had been staying inside the country but encompassed all those undocumented and illegal foreigners.

Pakistan hosted more than four million Afghan refugees on its soil for the last 40 years under the Geneva Convention, despite the fact that it was not a signatory to that, according to Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar.

A day earlier, he said more than one million foreigners had been categorised as illegal who had been staying in Pakistan without legal and valid documents.

According to sources in the commissionerate for Afghan refugees, illegal Afghan residents continued returning to Afghanistan via Torkham border crossing.

From October 1 to 28, as many as 4,672 families consisting of 67,604 people returned to Afghanistan, they added.

They said all repatriated Afghans were living illegally in Pakistan and added that Afghan families are being allowed to return to the neighbouring country after the fulfilment of legal formalities.

The Taliban government in Afghanistan said some 60,000 Afghans returned between Sept 23 to Oct 22 from Pakistan, which announced on Oct 4 it will expel undocumented migrants that do not leave.

And recent daily returnee figures are three times higher than normal, Taliban refugee ministry spokesperson Abdul Mutaleb Haqqani told Reuters on Oct 26.

Near Karachi’s Sohrab Goth area — home to one of Pakistan’s largest Afghan settlements — a bus service operator named Azizullah said he had laid on extra services to cope with the exodus. Nearby, lines formed before competitor bus services headed to Afghanistan.

“Before I used to run one bus a week, now we have four to five a week,” said Azizullah, who — like all the Afghan migrants Reuters interviewed — spoke on condition that he be identified by only one name due to the sensitivity of the matter.

‘Eviction of illegal residents from Nov 3’

Punjab IG Usman Anwar said he was in contact with the authorities concerned for the repatriation of the illegal immigrants and phase-wise evacuation of illegal immigrants will begin across the province from November 3.

He said the illegal residents would be evacuated from Rawalpindi, Sargodha, Gujranwala, Sheikhupura, Lahore, and other areas of the province.

The illegal residents will be expelled from the province through designated points and they will be kept at “holding centres” before expulsion, the Punjab IG said.

‘Expulsion plan compliant with int’l norms’

Foreign Ministry spokesprson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch stated that the expulsion plan was compliant with international norms and principles.

“Our record of the last forty years in hosting millions of Afghan brothers and sisters speaks for itself.”

Pakistan is home to over 4 million Afghan migrants and refugees, about 1.7 million of whom are undocumented, according to Islamabad.

Afghans make up the largest portion of migrants — many came after the Taliban retook Afghanistan in 2021, but a large number have been present since the 1979 Soviet invasion.

The expulsion threat came after suicide bombings this year which the government said involved Afghans.

Islamabad has also blamed them for smuggling and other terrorist attacks.

Cash-strapped Pakistan, navigating record inflation and a tough International Monetary Fund bailout programme, also said undocumented migrants have drained its resources for decades.

Spike in returns

In early September, an average of 300 people crossed the border into Afghanistan daily, according to international organisations working on migration issues, who provided data on condition that they not be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter. After Islamabad announced the November deadline, crossings jumped to roughly 4,000, the organisations said.

These figures are small compared to the number of people to be affected in coming days. The information minister for Balochistan province, which borders Afghanistan, told Reuters it is opening three more border crossings.

For weeks, state-run PTV has run a countdown to Nov 1 on the top of its screens.

Interior Minister Sarfaraz Bugti warned that law enforcement agencies will start removing “illegal immigrants who have … no justification” being in Pakistan after Tuesday.

They will be processed at “holding centers” and then deported, he told reporters, adding that women, children and the elderly would be treated “respectfully.”

Pakistani citizens who help undocumented migrants obtain false identities or employment will face legal action, Bugti warned.

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