JAMRUD: A large number of Afghan families wait for their turn outside the Nadra mobile offices for their data entry before leaving Pakistan for Afghanistan, on Wednesday.—Shahbaz Butt / White Star
JAMRUD: A large number of Afghan families wait for their turn outside the Nadra mobile offices for their data entry before leaving Pakistan for Afghanistan, on Wednesday.—Shahbaz Butt / White Star

• Prisoners among 7,300 Afghan nationals deported via Torkham as border facilities overwhelmed
• Over 100 undocumented immigrants held in Balochistan
• Nadra blocks 70,000 identity cards in Chaman
• Ministry says 140,000 have returned voluntarily
• Taliban govt terms Pakistan’s policy ‘cruel’

PESHAWAR/ISLAMABAD/QUETTA: As Pakistan launched a nationwide crackdown on undocumented immigrants in the wake of the expiry of the deadline, more than 7,300 refugees, including over 100 prisoners, were deported on Wednesday via the Torkham border crossing.

In a statement, the interior ministry said the process to “arrest the illegal immigrants residing in Pakistan has started” for their deportation.

According to the ministry, since the start of October at least 140,322 foreigners have “voluntarily returned to their respective countries”.

“Today, we said goodbye to 64 Afghan nationals as they began their journey back home. This action is a testament to Pakistan’s determination to repatriate any individuals residing in the country without proper documentation,” the statement added.

Sources said many Afghan nationals, who were serving prison sentences for petty crimes, were freed for their deportation to their home country.

“Those released from jails were involved in minor crimes and will not be required to complete their sentence on return to Afghanistan,” the source added.

The influx of Afghan refugees at the Torkham border overwhelmed the border management facilities, as the authorities concerned struggled to process the deportation of immigrants.

Among over 7,300 Afghan nationals deported on Wednesday, there were 51 prisoners released from Peshawar’s central jail and 64 from Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi.

“There is a huge number of ‘illegal immigrants’ waiting for their turn to be deported. The situation may go out of control,” a senior official informed Dawn.

He added although 22 teams of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) “are collecting data of the immigrants, the number of illegal immigrants at the border is swelling with every moment”.

The officials said there were multiple ‘holding centres’ in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but they were “almost empty” since most of the undocumented immigrants were being moved to the border, adding to the already inflated backlog.

Speaking about the prisoners deported to Afghanistan via Torkham, Additional Deputy Commissioner (Relief) Muhammad Imran Khan said, “These were all charged and imprisoned for illegally staying in Pakistan with some in prison for three years. Now, the government decided to deport them following court orders.”

Mr Khan stated that Afghan nationals would be documented and their data would be collected by the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), after which they would be moved to the Pak-Afghan border crossing in Torkham for deportation.

“Nadra will obtain all the required details, including fingerprints and pictures. Since we don’t have International Border Management System (IBMS) available at this facility, these Afghan nationals will be transported to Khyber district for IBMS and later deported,” an FIA official deputed at a ‘holding centre’ in Peshawar said.

Due to restrictions on their movement, the refugees had to wait inside their respective vehicles for the Nadra officials who gathered their data before the deportation.

‘100 rounded up in Balochistan’

In Balochistan, the police along with the Federal Investigation Agency and other authorities launched a crackdown and rounded up more than 100 Afghan immigrants living on the outskirts of Quetta. These ‘illegal immigrants’ were shifted to the ‘holding camps’ which were established at Quetta’s Haji Camp from where they will be deported via the Chaman border.

Late-night reports suggested the detention of hundreds of refugees who were brought to the ‘holding centre’.

Addressing a press conference, caretaker Information Minister Jan Achakzai confirmed that security officials took over 100 undocumented Afghan refugees and moved them to the ‘holding camp’.

He said that 1,000 undocumented refugees “will be reaching Quetta from Karachi on a special train” and they would be shifted to a holding centre before their deportation. The minister claimed at least 35,000 undocumented immigrants had crossed over to Afghanistan via Chaman till the expiry of the Nov 1 deadline.

He revealed that over 70,000 ‘fake national identity cards’ were blocked in Chaman and added that data regarding the issuance of counterfeit identity cards was being compiled by the authorities concerned.

He said that 35,000 people left of their own will via Chaman while other ‘illegal immigrants’ were also leaving Pakistan through other crossing points, including Taftan and Chagai. On this occasion, Quetta Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat has said that six ‘holding camps’ had been established in Quetta division.

‘Plan to sabotage repatriation’

 Afghan children refugees arrive on trucks from Pakistan at the Afghanistan-Pakistan Torkham border in Nangarhar province on Nov 1. — AFP
Afghan children refugees arrive on trucks from Pakistan at the Afghanistan-Pakistan Torkham border in Nangarhar province on Nov 1. — AFP

Meanwhile, official sources claimed a nefarious plan to sabotage the repatriation process “has been unearthed”. According to them, the Afghans returning to their country could come under fire upon reaching the Pakistan side of the crossing points.

They said the plan was meant to sabotage the peaceful repatriation process. They claimed violent protests could crop up in Chaman and Spin Boldak as a part of the plan to create unrest in the border region.

Meanwhile, a day after a senior US official revealed a list of more than 25,000 Afghan individuals in the US resettlement and relocation pipelines with the authorities in Pakistan, an official source said the list provided was flawed and contained names of non-Afghans.

He said the list just contained names without necessary details, including the name of the father and the cities they were residing in.

He said the US wants to complete the process in 18 months and links it with the setting up of an office of the International Organisation for Migrants (IOM).

“To help protect vulnerable individuals, we have shared a list with the government of Pakistan of more than 25000 Afghan individuals in the US resettlement and relocation pipelines. We are in the process of sending letters to those individuals that they can share with local authorities to help identify them as individuals in the US pipeline. And we continue to call for the establishment of a protective screening mechanism,” a senior US official had recently said.

‘Develop a system’

On the other hand, the United States, the European Union, and seven other major states urged Afghanistan’s neighbours to develop a system of registering undocumented Afghans instead of forcibly deporting them to their home country.

The statement, issued in Washington on Tuesday evening, is endorsed by Canada, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

It reflects the decisions taken at a recent meeting in Rome of their special representatives and envoys for Afghanistan who also reviewed the current humanitarian and political situation in the war-torn nations.

They “urged all states, including Afghanistan’s neighbours, to uphold their applicable obligations with respect to the protection of refugees, to promote the right to seek asylum, and to ensure individuals, particularly those from at risk groups who would face persecution or torture if returned, are protected from being forcibly returned.”

Afghan Taliban government’s Defence Minister Mullah Yaqoob was quoted by AFP as saying on Tuesday that Pakistan’s policy was “cruel and barbaric”.

Anwar Iqbal in Washington also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2023

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