33,000 illegal immigrants identified so far via mapping to be deported: Amir Mir

Published October 27, 2023
Punjab’s caretaker Information Minister Amir Mir addresses a press conference in Lahore on Friday. — Screengrab
Punjab’s caretaker Information Minister Amir Mir addresses a press conference in Lahore on Friday. — Screengrab

Punjab caretaker Information Minister Amir Mir on Friday revealed that approximately 33,000 people were identified through mapping as illegal residents lacking proper legal documentation and were now slated for deportation.

The provincial minister’s statement coincides with the government’s approaching October 31 deadline for illegal residents to depart from Pakistan. Earlier this month, the government gave an ultimatum to all undocumented immigrants, including Afghan nationals, to vacate Pakistan by the stipulated date, emphasising that failure to do so would result in potential imprisonment and deportation to their home countries.

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

Addressing a press conference in Lahore today, Mir said that prior to the Oct 31 deadline, “as many as 99,000 illegal foreign residents have been detained in Pakistan and 33,000 of them were found to be completely lacking any documents and staying illegally in Pakistan after their identification through mapping,” adding that they would be deported.

The provincial information minister said the above figure would continue to increase as mapping was carried out on a daily basis.

He explained that the federal government had allocated Friday and Saturday to Punjab for deportation, and other provinces were assigned different days for the purpose. He also noted that the Punjab cabinet had presented the operational plan for deportation.

Mir said the identified illegal residents were currently being held in designated holding areas with 36 points within Punjab. “Efforts are in progress to ascertain which of these individuals will be repatriated from which particular border areas,” he added.

The Punjab information minister took care to stress that only illegal residents would be deported and action was not being taken against “any particular community”.

The minister underscored that individuals with proof of registration will not be subjected to any action during this phase.

“Pakistan has consistently extended respectful hospitality to migrants, and this tradition will persist. However, around the world, when a person enters any country illegally, they are typically deported, which is not an uncommon practice. Likewise, individuals with improper documentation will also be subject to deportation here.”

The minister further said that law enforcement agencies had pinpointed several individuals residing in the country with fake Pakistani documents, and steps were taken against them. “These individuals avail themselves of all the benefits and services but do not contribute through taxes and many of them are involved in illegal actions.”

He also highlighted that in recent times, there were 24 suicide bombings across different parts of Pakistan, with “Afghan nationals identified as suicide bombers in 14 of those incidents”. He underlined the readiness of an operational plan, with actions set to be taken soon.

He mentioned that anyone intending to depart would be permitted to retain Rs50,000.

“Furthermore, it is crucial to note that after November 1, if any Pakistani is found harbouring an illegally residing person or engaging in business with them, strict action will be taken against them.”

Mir also emphasised that after Oct 31, any foreigner willing to depart voluntarily would be permitted to do so. However, he clarified that those individuals who were residing in Pakistan illegally and were apprehended would be subject to deportation, without the option of voluntary departure.

Afghan nationals at risk of deportation from Pakistan: UNHCHR

Meanwhile, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) urged the government to “suspend forcible returns of Afghan nationals before it is too late to avoid a human rights catastrophe”.

“We call on them to continue providing protection to those in need and ensure that any future returns are safe, dignified and voluntary and fully consistent with international law,” UNHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said in a statement issued today.

“We believe many of those facing deportation will be at grave risk of human rights violations if returned to Afghanistan, including arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, cruel and other inhuman treatment,” the spokesperson said.

She added that the UNHCHR was “extremely alarmed by Pakistan’s announcement that it plans to deport ‘undocumented’ foreign nationals remaining in the country after Nov 1,” adding that the measure would “disproportionately impact more than 1.4m undocumented Afghans who remain in Pakistan”.

The UNHCHR spokesperson called on authorities to “continue providing protection to those in need and ensure that any future returns are safe, dignified and voluntary and fully consistent with international law.”

She pointed out that with winter on the horizon, large-scale deportations were likely to exacerbate the already severe humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

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