• Caretaker minister says immigrants who procured fake ID cards will be expelled in next phase, warns their ‘local facilitators’ of action
• Cash-carrying limit of 50,000 afghanis imposed on families at time of repatriation
• Army chief links security of Pakistanis with expulsion of ‘illegal aliens’; FO spokesperson rules out extension in Nov 1 deadline

ISLAMABAD: As Pakistan ruled out an extension in the deadline for the forced repatriation of undocumented immigrants, mostly Afghan nationals, caretaker Inte­rior Minister Sarfraz Bugti on Thursday revealed foreign nationals residing in the country without identity documents would be kept at ‘holding centres’ before deportation to their respective countries.

At a press conference held in the federal capital, the caretaker minister shared the details of a plan to expel refugees, saying instead of keeping them in prisons, the authorities would house them in detention centres set up in all provinces, including Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and Islamabad.

 CHAMAN: Local tribesmen, political workers and traders demonstrate on the fifth day of a sit-in against fresh restrictions imposed on crossing the Pak-Afghan border, on Thursday.—AFP
CHAMAN: Local tribesmen, political workers and traders demonstrate on the fifth day of a sit-in against fresh restrictions imposed on crossing the Pak-Afghan border, on Thursday.—AFP

The interior minister said that provincial governments would bear the costs for such centres.

He assured these undocumented immigrants, especially women, children and elderly, would be kept at these centres “with respect” and provided with meals and medical facilities. “But after November 1 deadline, we will not compromise on the issue of expulsion of illegal immigrants,” he underlined.

Mr Bugti explained that those being expelled from the country would only be allowed to carry their local currency amounting to Rs50,000 per family. In the case of Afghan families, they can carry 50,000 Afghan Afghanis, he added.

He said that funds exceeding this number could only be wired through proper banking channels. “All modalities are being finalised in this regard,” he added.

The minister reiterated that he was talking about those individuals living in Pakistan who did not have valid travel documents. “We will expel all illegal immigrants in phases, and in the first phase, those having no valid documents will be repatriated,” he said.

Fake ID cards

The caretaker minister pointed out that those who illegally procured Pak­istan’s national identity cards or passports through the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) would also be expelled following the cancellation of their identity documents.

He said that the authority was working round the clock to identify and investigate such cases and action would also be taken against those officials of Nadra who were found involved in this “identity theft”.

The caretaker minister admitted that the Nadra database was compromised and its data was breached in the past. He explained the purpose of appointing a serving general as the chief of the registration authority was to “improve the situation by clubbing together his experience in security and technology”. It is a matter of national security, he claimed.

Action against local facilitators

Mr Bugti warned action would be taken against the properties owned by ‘illegal immigrants’ and their ‘local facilitators’. At the same time, the minister also issued a warning to Pakistanis “facilitating” such imm­igrants and said they were “violating the law and the government would take strict action against them as well”.

The minister also appealed to all undocumented immigrants to leave the country voluntarily to avoid action. “We encourage voluntary return,” he said.

He said that the government had done geo-fencing and identified areas where illegal immigrants were residing. Mr Bugti conceded that repatriation of people in such a large number was a “challenging task” for the state but said that the plan would be implemented after November 1. “The state has the synergy [to do so]. We have the capacity,” he said.

Speaking about Afghan nationals staying in Pakistan on transit visas, he said the government would facilitate them. “We are in contact with all embassies including that of the UK, Canada and other countries (on the issue) … we are not going to harm them,” he assured.

Responding to a question, he said that clear instructions had been given to law enforcement agencies that there would be no manhandling of illegal foreigners. “Everyone, including children, women, and the elderly would be treated with respect,” he added.

‘Paramount importance’

Meanwhile, army chief General Asim Munir, while speaking on the issue of repatriation and deportation of illegal foreigners, said the safety and security of each Pakistani was of “paramount importance which cannot be allowed to be compromised at any cost”.

He was talking to the participants of a security workshop during their visit to General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.

Meanwhile, Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch told a weekly press briefing that Pakistan decided to repatriate ‘illegal foreigners’ in line with national laws.

“These laws prescribe sanction and punishment of individuals illegally present in Pakistan and that incl­udes deportation of such individuals. That is Pakistani law and the decision to implement these laws has been taken to ensure the safety and security of Pakistan and for Pakistan’s economic strength,” she said.

She confirmed that Pakistan communicated with authorities in Kabul on the return of ‘illegal Afghans’ to their homeland.

“We have explained to them that this policy is not specific to Afghanistan; it pertains to all illegal foreigners irrespective of their nationality. We have also explained to them that this policy does not affect individuals who are here legally or hold confirmed status as refugees.”

Ms Baloch ruled out any extension in the deadline set for immigrants to leave the country.

She said she did not have the exact figures of Afghans “who may have been repatriated or who are slated for repatriation” to third countries. “We remain in contact with friendly countries who have offered to take these individuals.”

Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2023

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