ISLAMABAD: The government on Friday doubled down on its policy to evict all illegal immigrants — including around 1.7 million Afghan refugees — from the country, saying that the decision was in line with international practices.

Meanwhile, as law enforcement agencies continued their crackdown on people they call ‘illegal aliens’, a sizeable number of families have been crossing the border into Afgh­a­n­istan over the past week.

“No country allows illegal people to live in their country whether it is Europe, whether it is countries in Asia, in our neighbourhood,” caretaker For­eign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani, told Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV in an interview on the sidelines of a forum in Tibet.

“So, accordingly this is in line with the international practice that we have taken this decision.”

FM says decision in line with global practice; Punjab CM claims data of all foreign residents compiled

Pakistan’s decision to ask illegal immigrants to leave by Oct 31 or face forcible expulsion has drawn criticism from within and without, with organisations such as UNHCR and Amnesty International calling on the government to rethink its plans. The Taliban government in Kabul has also experessed its reservations over the move.

“Whenever there was any problem, people would immigrate to Pakistan, take refuge in Pakistan,” Mr Jilani said during the interview.

“But now I think it has been more than 40 years, so the government of Pakistan has taken a decision,” he said, noting that the situation in Afghanistan had stabilised.

The caretaker foreign minister said Pakistan had been discussing the migrant issue with Afghanistan “for a very long time” and called on international humanitarian agencies to help with the process.

Separately, speaking to reporters on Friday evening, caretaker Punjab Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi called on all foreign nationals illegally residing in Punjab to depart voluntarily, saying that provincial authorities had collected initial data on foreign residents.

He was stern in his warning, saying that any foreigner found staying unlawfully in the province would not be permitted to remain, and stressed that illegal immigrants should leave Punjab of their own accord. In case they didn’t, he cautioned, a comprehensive crackdown would ensue.

However, the caretaker Punjab CM assured that no one would be abused in this process.

Earlier, Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said that the expulsion plan would be carried out in phases.

According to Reuters, she said it could start with people with criminal records, such as someone involved in a crime or smuggling, adding that the process would follow an orderly manner, in contrast to what she called misconceptions that all of them would just be expelled in one go.

Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2023

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