“Our policy is only about illegal individuals who are here illegally"
Pakistan’s foreign ministry has said the country will carry out its plans to deport all illegal immigrants, including 1.7 million Afghans, in a “phased and orderly manner”.
The statement is likely meant to ease international concerns and calm fears among Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
On October 3, 2023, it was unexpectedly announced that all migrants without valid documentation will have to go back to their countries voluntarily before October 31, 2023, to avoid mass arrests and forced deportation.
This sent a wave of panic among those living without documentation and drew widespread condemnation from rights groups.
Activists have said any forced deportation of Afghans will put them at risk.
Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, the spokesperson for Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the new policy is just aimed at Afghans.
She said: “We have been hosting Afghans refugees generously for the past four decades when millions of them fled Afghanistan during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation.
“Those 1.4 million Afghan nationals who are registered as refugees in Pakistan need not worry.
“Our policy is only about illegal individuals who are here illegally, no matter what their nationality is.
“But unfortunately, there has been a misunderstanding or misrepresentation and for some reason, people have started associating this with Afghan refugees.
“The laws in Pakistan are similar to laws in many other countries.”
Amnesty International asked Pakistan to allow the Afghans to continue to live in the country.
But UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ spokesman expressed concerns about the new policy.
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said:
“As a matter of principle, it is critical that no refugees be sent back without it being a voluntary and dignified return.”
In Kabul, the Taliban government’s chief spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, criticised Pakistan’s announcement, saying it was “unacceptable” and that Islamabad should reconsider the decision.
Although Pakistani security forces and police have routinely been arresting and deporting Afghans who have illegally entered the country in recent years, this is the first time that the government has announced plans for such a major crackdown.
The developments come amid a rise in attacks by the Pakistani Taliban, who have hideouts and bases in Afghanistan but regularly cross into Pakistan to stage attacks on Pakistani forces.
The outlawed Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), often claim attacks on Pakistani security forces.
Baloch said some of the illegal migrants, including Afghans, have already started going back to their countries.
“We are allowing a grace period until the end of the month.”
Pakistan has long demanded that the Taliban authorities in Afghanistan cease their support for the TTP.
The Pakistani Taliban are a separate group but are allied with the Afghan Taliban, who seized control of Afghanistan in mid-August 2021 as US and NATO forces were in the last weeks of their withdrawal from the country, after 20 years of war.
Baloch also said that Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani held talks in China, where he is currently on an official visit, with Afghanistan’s Taliban-appointed Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi.
She said: “Their meeting was very productive, she said without elaborating and urged the Afghan Taliban to disarm the TTP so that the Afghan territory would no longer be a launching pad for attacks in Pakistan.
However, Baloch insisted that the planned crackdown on illegal migrants was not aimed at bargaining with the Afghan Taliban authorities.
She added: “Absolutely, this is not the case at all… we only want all illegal migrants to go back.”