Decade of displacement: Repatriation of illegal Afghans begins at a snail’s pace

Published November 5, 2023
Afghan refugees gather around National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) vans for biometric verifications as they prepare to depart for Afghanistan, at a holding centre in Landi Kotal on Nov 1. — AFP
Afghan refugees gather around National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) vans for biometric verifications as they prepare to depart for Afghanistan, at a holding centre in Landi Kotal on Nov 1. — AFP

The repatriation process for illegal Afghans seems slow as a mere 128,650 individuals have returned home through the Torkham border since September 17, defying the general perception that a huge exodus from the country is underway.

On October 3, the caretaker government announced November 1 as the deadline for illegal Afghans in Pakistan to depart the country. It has set up 49 transit centres to temporarily house illegal migrants, including 1.7 million undocumented Afghans.

The Torkham border in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has emerged as a major escape gateway as the majority of illegal Afghans have landed in Punjab, a province with a better law and order situation but finding a job is hard for the labour class to feed their families.

However, Afghan migrants have also taken over jobs from local labourers, who were considerably less productive.

The breakdown revealed that 7,195 families were repatriated to Afghanistan between September 17, 2023 and November 4, 2023. Of these, 34,639 males have been repatriated, followed by 25,710 females and 68,280 children.

The available data showed that 11,672 illegal Afghans were repatriated through the Chaman border in Balochistan.

Torkham, Kharlachi, Ghulam Khan, and Angoor Ada are four border stations in KP that have been designated by the government for the return of illegal Afghans residing in KP, Islamabad, Punjab, Gilgit-Baltistan, and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

Illegal Afghans in Sindh and Balochistan have been earmarked for repatriation through the border crossings of Chaman, Barab Chah, Noor Wahab and Badini, Qila Saifullah, Qameruddin, Karez and Chagai.

Facilitation Measures

The voluntary deadline of November 1 has passed. The government has finalised various measures to accomplish the forced repatriation.

The government has set up a control centre at the Ministry of Interior to supervise the procedure as part of the facilitation measures. Grade 17 and above officers from the police, district administration, intelligence agencies, Nadra, immigration, and PDMA ministries are responsible for overseeing it.

Additionally, sufficient security has been established at holding centres. Security personnel would accompany the migrants on buses to the border crossings. Authorities will house them in centres set up in all provinces, including in AJK, GB, and Islamabad, rather than in jails.

According to the decision, undocumented immigrants, particularly women, children, and the elderly, would be treated with dignity and provided meals and medical care at these holding centres. The costs for such facilities would be borne by the provincial governments.

The government has also instructed law enforcement authorities (LEAs) to ensure no mistreatment of illegal aliens; any such mistreatment should be reported to the interior ministry’s special helpline.

To deal with any untoward situation, the KP government has also established “1700” as an emergency number.

The government has also announced that the policy of repatriation of illegal individuals is not specific to Afghanistan and pertains to all illegal foreigners irrespective of their nationality.

Impact on economy

Pakistan is currently experiencing a brain drain as highly skilled individuals leave the country in search of better opportunities in Europe, North America, and the Middle East.

The blue-collar jobs are equally vital to the Pakistani economy. Afghan labourers with no legal travel documents worked in Pakistan’s construction, mining, agricultural, and other industries.

The departure of these low-skilled Afghan labourers will have major ramifications for these sectors, which are currently thought to be vital to the country’s economic progress.

It would also have a significant impact on the country’s economy. However, Pakistan would need to document its economy and meet global norms.

Pakistan is the only country in the region that allows commodities to be imported and exported to Afghanistan using the Pakistani rupee. This arrangement has major consequences for Pakistan’s economy.

However, Pakistan permitted barter trade with Kabul to help the Afghan government settle after the US blocked the central bank of Kabul’s $9.5 billion foreign holdings in response to sanctions.

As a result, Pakistan is committed to assisting the Afghan government in all aspects of life.

Contact with friendly countries

The government has been in contact with friendly countries who have offered to take these individuals.

Afghans who were evacuated by Pakistani forces following the Taliban takeover are still in different cities of the country including Islamabad, awaiting their onward passage to countries for whom they have worked for in Afghanistan.

There are a significant number of Afghans in Pakistan awaiting further relocation to North America, the United Kingdom, or Europe. This government initiative will indirectly put pressure on those nations to expedite the immigration of Afghans who are now stranded in Pakistan.

The United Kingdom has begun the evacuation of asylum-seeking Afghan refugees from Pakistan, more than two years after they fled Kabul following the Taliban takeover in 2021.

In this regard, on October 27, a chartered jet carrying 132 Afghan refugees departed Islamabad for London.

Around 3,000 Afghans, many of whom worked for the British troops, were evacuated and given permanent residency in the United Kingdom. They have been stuck in Pakistan since last year when the UK government made lodging arrangements a requirement for repatriation.

Foreign Office stance

At a weekly news briefing, Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch announced that the Illegal Foreigners Repatriation Plan (IFRP) for those residing in Pakistan in contravention of our immigration laws had gone into action.

This pertains to people who have overstayed their visas or do not have appropriate documents to stay in Pakistan.

Last month, the Pakistani government announced a one-month grace period for such persons to leave the country willingly. As a result, thousands of people have returned home voluntarily.

This procedure will be carried out in a systematic and stepwise manner. The IFRP applies to all foreigners illegally residing in Pakistan, regardless of nationality or country of origin.

According to the spokesperson, the decision was made in accordance with Pakistan’s sovereign domestic laws and in accordance with applicable international norms and standards.

It does not apply to anyone who has refugee status and is being kindly welcomed by Pakistan.

“Our consultations with Afghanistan have continued and the two foreign ministers also discussed it when they met in Tibet a fortnight ago”, the spokesperson further said.

Having said that, the spokesperson stated that the plan’s implementation has now commenced and will continue to be implemented.

Opinion

Editorial

IMF’s projections
Updated 18 Apr, 2024

IMF’s projections

The problems are well-known and the country is aware of what is needed to stabilise the economy; the challenge is follow-through and implementation.
Hepatitis crisis
18 Apr, 2024

Hepatitis crisis

THE sheer scale of the crisis is staggering. A new WHO report flags Pakistan as the country with the highest number...
Never-ending suffering
18 Apr, 2024

Never-ending suffering

OVER the weekend, the world witnessed an intense spectacle when Iran launched its drone-and-missile barrage against...
Saudi FM’s visit
Updated 17 Apr, 2024

Saudi FM’s visit

The government of Shehbaz Sharif will have to manage a delicate balancing act with Pakistan’s traditional Saudi allies and its Iranian neighbours.
Dharna inquiry
17 Apr, 2024

Dharna inquiry

THE Supreme Court-sanctioned inquiry into the infamous Faizabad dharna of 2017 has turned out to be a damp squib. A...
Future energy
17 Apr, 2024

Future energy

PRIME MINISTER Shehbaz Sharif’s recent directive to the energy sector to curtail Pakistan’s staggering $27bn oil...