The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) “stand ready” to provide support in registering and managing Afghan nationals, the agencies said on Saturday.

The statement comes amidst the government’s crackdown on illegal immigrants residing across the country.

Earlier this week, the government gave an ultimatum to all undocumented immigrants, including Afghan nationals, to leave Pakistan by October 31, or else 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 (COAS) General Asim Munir, among others.

The committee had 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.

In a joint statement today, both UN agencies stated they had a “longstanding and strong collaboration” with Pakistan and stood ready to “provide support in developing a comprehensive and sustainable mechanism to register and manage Afghan nationals, including those who may be in need of international protection”.

It added that the UNHCR and IOM said they were appealing to Pakistan to “continue its protection of all vulnerable Afghans who have sought safety in the country and could be at imminent risk if forced to return”.

The UN agencies urged all countries to “suspend forcible returns of Afghan nationals and ensure any possible returns to the country take place in a safe, dignified and voluntary manner”.

They highlighted that Afghanistan was going through a “severe humanitarian crisis with several human rights challenges, particularly for women and girls”.

“Such plans would have serious implications for all who have been forced to leave the country and may face serious protection risks upon return,” the aid organisations noted.

They also acknowledged the government’s “sovereign prerogative over domestic policies, its need to manage populations on its territory, and its obligations to ensure public safety and security”.

Appreciating “Pakistan’s generous hospitality towards Afghan nationals for over four decades, despite challenges”, the UN agencies repeated the “call for all returns to be voluntary, safe and dignified — without any pressure, to ensure protection for those seeking safety”.

“The forced repatriation of Afghan nationals has the potential to result in severe human rights violations, including the separation of families and deportation of minors,” the statement emphasised.

Govt firm on repatriation plan amid criticism

Despite criticism from within and without, with organisations such as the UNHCR and Amnesty International calling on the government to rethink its plans, the government doubled down on its policy.

Caretaker Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani had defended the move, saying that it was “in line with the international practice”. He had 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.

Foreign Office (FO) spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch had stated that the crackdown on undocumented immigrants was not aimed at any particular ethnic group.

She had added that the expulsion plan could start with people with criminal records, such as someone involved in a crime or smuggling. Baloch further said 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.

It was reported this week that 30 Afghan families had returned to their country via the Torkham border crossing over the last couple of days, with sources saying the new policy had accelerated the process.

A day ago, caretaker Punjab Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi had asserted that the provincial authorities had collected initial data on foreign residents. He had called on all foreign nationals residing illegally in Punjab to depart voluntarily.

A meeting of the Sindh Apex Com­m­ittee, attended by caretaker Chief Minister ret­ired Justice Maqbool Baqar and army chief Gen Munir, was informed yesterday that pockets, where illegal Afghan nationals were concentrated in the province, had been identified.

Meanwhile, the Islamabad police had said that out of 1,126 foreign nationals detained by the police, more than 600 people were able to produce their valid documents, after which the police officials allowed them to go home.

In Quetta, over 200 Afghans allegedly living illegally had been arrested earlier this week from various areas of the city.

Karachi police also claimed on Friday to have arrested 51 illegal Afghan immigrants in a combing operation in Sohrab Goth’s Afghan Camp.

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