Crackdown rattles Afghans in Pakistan

Published September 29, 2023
PEOPLE gather at the tea shop at an Afghan refugee camp in Karachi. — AFP
PEOPLE gather at the tea shop at an Afghan refugee camp in Karachi. — AFP

KARACHI: The cow had been slaughtered and bags of rice purchased, but young bride Wahida’s nuptials were cut short when her groom was arrested on their wedding day, one of hundreds caught in a recent crackdown on Afghans living in Pakistan.

The 20-year-old now lives with her in-laws at the Afghan Muhajir aid camp in Karachi, but without her husband-to-be, a registered refugee.

“We are without hope,” the groom’s mother, Safar Gul, told AFP. “The police took away our son. What can we do, they have the power.” Faizur Reh­man, 22, was arrested “just be­­cause he was Afghan”, another relative named Zulaikha said.

Around 1.3 million are registered refugees and 880,000 more have legal status to remain in Pakistan, according to the latest United Nations figures.

Police say action only aimed at illegal immigrants; lawyers helpless to help those without documents

Police and politicians have said a recent round-up targets only those without legal status and is in response to rising crime and poor regulation of immigration that is straining resources.

At least 700 Afghans have been arrested since early September in Karachi alone — 10 times more than in August — and hundreds more in the other cities, according to official police figures.

Afghans say the arrests have been indiscriminate.

They accuse police of extorting money and ignoring legal documents, while pointing to rising anti-Afghan sentiment as prolonged economic hardship burdens Pakistani households and tensions rise betwe­­en Islamabad and Kabul’s new Taliban government.

An estimated 600,000 Afghans have arrived since the Taliban seized power in Kabul in August 2021.

Lawyers have said the police operation has been complicated by registration cards for vast numbers of documented Afghans expiring at the end of June, although their status remains in place until the government rules on their renewal.

Lawyer Moniza Kakar said she can do little for Afghans who do not have documents, and that those recently deported include the sick and poor, as well as human rights defenders and women students.

More than 1,800 Afghans were deported from Karachi last year, city police said, and nearly 1,700 have been arrested so far in 2023.

But Kakar, along with the several other lawyers giving free legal help to Afghans, said the vast majority in this sweep are documented, compared to roughly a quarter rounded up in past crackdowns.

“Our action is purely aimed at illegal immigrants,” Karachi police chief Khadim Rind told AFP, adding that allegations of arrests of legal document holders and bribe-taking should be investigated.

Afghan consul general Syed Abdul Jabbar said Afghans in Pakistan were paying the price for disputes between Kabul and Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2023

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