Interim Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani defended on Thursday an order that all illegal immigrants, including 1.73 million Afghans, must leave, saying no other country allows illegal immigrants and the decision is in line with international practice.
Earlier this week, the government gave an ultimatum to all undocumented immigrants, including Afghan nationals, to leave Pakistan by October 31, or risk imprisonment and deportation to their respective countries.
The decision was taken in an apex committee meeting headed by Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar and attended by Chief of Army Staff Gen Asim Munir, among others. The committee also decided that movement across the border would be subject to passports and visas, while electronic Afghan identity cards (or e-tazkiras) would only be accepted until Oct 31.
After the passage of the deadline, the authorities will kickstart an operation targeting illegal properties and businesses owned by immigrants or those being run in collaboration with Pakistani nationals.
The move had drawn a response from Afghan authorities, with Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid terming it “unacceptable” while urging authorities to revisit the policy.
Subsequently, Foreign Office (FO) spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch had stated that the crackdown on undocumented immigrants was not aimed at any particular ethnic group. At a weekly press briefing, she said the decision was aimed at “regulating illegal aliens” residing in Pakistan, irrespective of their nationality.
“… Pakistan is well within the parameters of its sovereign domestic laws to act in this context,” she remarked. The FO spokesperson said the decision was not targeted at Afghan refugees.
“As the situation in Afghanistan stabilises, we believe that it is the right time to upscale international efforts to create conditions conducive to the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees with honour and dignity,” she said.
She said the repatriation exercise would be undertaken in a “phased, deliberate and orderly manner”. The process would proceed depending on the number of “illegal immigrants in Pakistan and the arrangements” for their return to their respective countries.
Speaking to Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV in an interview on the sidelines of a forum in Tibet, Jilani said, “No country allows illegal people to live in their country whether it is Europe, whether it is countries in Asia, in our neighbourhood.”
“So, accordingly this is in line with the international practice that we have taken this decision,” he added.
“Whenever there was any problem, people would immigrate to Pakistan, take refuge in Pakistan,” Jilani said.
“But now I think it has been more than 40 years, so the government of Pakistan has taken a decision,” Jilani said, noting that the situation in Afghanistan had stabilised.
Decades of war in Afghanistan largely ended in mid-2021 when the Taliban re-took control as US-led foreign forces were withdrawing and a US-backed government collapsed.
Jilani said Pakistan had been discussing the migrant issue with Afghanistan “for a very long time” and he called on international humanitarian agencies to help with the process.
Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti said on Tuesday some 1.73 million Afghans in Pakistan had no legal documents and the number of Afghan refugees in Pakistan totalled 4.4 million.
In defending the decision to expel Afghans, authorities said 14 of 24 suicide bombings this year had been carried out by Afghan nationals. A Taliban spokesman rejected that assertion.
Aid officials say Afghanistan is already facing a humanitarian crisis and the forced repatriation of large numbers of people would compound dire problems.
51 ‘illegal’ Afghan citizens held in Karachi
Later in the day, the Karachi police said they had detained 51 “illegal” Afghan nationals in a “combing operation” near Sohrab Goth.
“More than 200 policemen including ladies police encircled ‘Gana Mandi’ in Sohrab Goth,” East SSP Syed Irfan Bahadur told Dawn.com.
The operation was carried out over the presence of “criminal elements”, the official said.
He detailed that entry and exit points of the area were sealed and a house-to-house search was launched. During the operation, the criminal record of suspicious persons was checked through biometric verification.
“During the operation, 51 illegal Afghan citizens were arrested,” SSP Bahadur claimed, adding that 10 “suspicious” motorcycles were also seized.
The record of all arrested persons was being verified further, he added.
Earlier this week, police in Islamabad and Quetta detained over 700 foreign nationals for allegedly living without legal documents. In a statement, an Islamabad police spokesperson said 1,126 people were interrogated during the operation, and 503 were allegedly found to be living illegally.
They were booked under Section 14 of the Foreigners Act and are currently in prison on judicial remand. Around 623 people were released after presenting the requisite legal documents, the statement added.