More than 165,000 Afghans flee Pakistan after deportation order: officials

Published November 2, 2023
Afghan refugees gather at a makeshift camp upon their arrival from Pakistan, near the Afghanistan-Pakistan Torkham border in Nangarhar province on November 2. — AFP
Afghan refugees gather at a makeshift camp upon their arrival from Pakistan, near the Afghanistan-Pakistan Torkham border in Nangarhar province on November 2. — AFP
Afghan nationals are pictured as they head back to Afghanistan, at the Torkham border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan, October 30. — Reuters
Afghan nationals are pictured as they head back to Afghanistan, at the Torkham border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan, October 30. — Reuters

More than 165,000 Afghans have fled Pakistan in the month since the government ordered illegal immigrant to leave or face arrest and deportation, officials said Thursday.

The majority rushed to the border in the past several days as the November 1 deadline approached and police began to open up dozens of “holding centres” to detain arrested Afghans.

Authorities on the Afghan side of the border have been overwhelmed by the scale of the exodus as they attempt to process those returning — some of whom are setting foot in Afghanistan for the first time in their lives.

“We are constantly in contact with them (Pakistani authorities) asking for more time. People must be allowed to return with dignity,” the Taliban government’s refugees minister Khalil Haqqani told AFP.

“They should not give Afghans a hard time, they should not make more enemies,” he said at a temporary processing centre, which opened overnight Wednesday.

Taliban authorities set up the centre several kilometres from a border crossing, as well as camps for families with nowhere to go, after a bottleneck there sparked an “emergency situation” for thousands of stranded people, an official said.

Meanwhile, Pakistani authorities detained hundreds of Afghans on Thursday, with officials vowing to keep up their immigration crackdown, and encouraging undocumented Afghans to continue leaving voluntarily.

“Illegal Afghans arrived at Torkham in heavy numbers because of the deadline … People can still return voluntarily but today only 1,000 are present at the border,” Abdul Nasir Khan, deputy commissioner of the border district, told AFP.

At the Torkham border crossing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, officials worked into the early hours of Thursday to clear a queue of 28,000 people that stretched for seven kilometres (four miles).

Just over 129,000 have fled from KP, the provincial home department said, while 38,100 have crossed through Chaman in Balochistan, border officials there told AFP.

Campaign continues

Millions of Afghans have poured into Pakistan in recent decades, fleeing a series of violent conflicts, including an estimated 600,000 since the Taliban government seized power in August 2021.

Pakistan has said the deportations are to protect its “welfare and security” after a sharp rise in attacks, which the government blames on militants operating from Afghanistan.

More than 100 people were detained in one police operation in the mega city of Karachi on Thursday, while police rounded up 425 Afghans in Quetta.

“The campaign against illegal immigrants will continue,” Saad Bin Asad, the Quetta deputy commissioner, told AFP.

Border bottleneck

More than 24,000 Afghans crossed into Afghanistan using the Torkham border crossing on Wednesday alone, Deputy Commissioner Khyber Tribal District Abdul Nasir Khan told Reuters.

“There were a large number waiting for clearance and we made extra arrangements to better facilitate the clearance process,” Khan said.

Authorities had worked well into the night at a camp set up near the crossing, he added. The border, at the northwestern end of the Khyber Pass on the road between Peshawar and Afghanistan’s Jalalabad, is usually closed by sundown.

Khan said 128,000 Afghans have left for through the border crossing since the Pakistan government issued its directive.

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