PESHAWAR: More than 6,500 Afghan nationals left Pakistan through the Torkham border on Sunday, taking the number of repatriated Afghans to over 170,000, according to border officials.
The voluntary evacuation has been going on since the government gave an ultimatum to all unregistered foreign nationals to leave Pakistan by Oct 31, after which action would be taken against them as per law.
According to officials, a total of 174,358 Afghan nationals left for Afghanistan since Sept 17, adding that voluntary repatriation was still underway, but the number was dropping with each passing day.
“There was a huge number of illegal immigrants at the border crossing soon after the deadline expired. It is now coming down,” an official involved in processing voluntary repatriation of Afghan nationals told Dawn.
Around 6,584 return voluntarily on Sunday as exodus ‘slows’; Achakzai claims Pakhtuns being targeted during purge
According to official data, 6,584 Afghans, including women and children, exited Pakistan on Sunday.
On Saturday, 209 deportees from different prisons across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab were sent back along with 46,936 men, 35,507 women and 85,331 children.
On Nov 3, 148 deportees, 44,718 men, 33,699 women and 82,221 children were repatriated, while the number stood at 24 deportees, 40,899 men, 30,399 women and 76,675 on Nov 2.
Around 7,195 families, with 34,639 men, 25,710 women, and 68,280 children, besides 115 deportees, were refouled on Nov 1.
Apart from the voluntary repatriation, Afghan nationals imprisoned for involvement in petty crimes were also being deported, according to official documents.
Over 500 prisoners from KP, Punjab and Islamabad were deported between November 1 and 4.
According to official numbers, 194 prisoners were transported from different districts of Punjab to the Torkham border crossing for repatriation.
On Saturday, around 700 Afghan nationals also returned through the Chaman border, according to caretaker Information Minister Jan Achakzai.
Addressing a press conference along with Quetta Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat on Sunday, the minister said more than 54,000 Afghans have returned to their homeland so far.
Govt to bear expenses
Officials have also assured Afghan families that the government will bear all expenses for repatriation to convince them.
Sources have said that some illegal Afghan nationals in Nowshera were willing to go back but unable to do so due to a lack of resources.
The district administration, along with the police, have met with the families and convinced them that the government would bear all the expenses for their repatriation, the source added.
A total of 21 families, comprising 152 individuals including 23 men, 22 women and 107 children, were transported to the holding areas established in the district in 15 vehicles.
The vehicles were rented by the district administration, which also paid for the labourers to the families’ belongings in trucks.
“They were willing to repatriate to Afghanistan but lacked resources, including food and finances. We promised them facilitation, and they were all transported to the holding area,” Additional Deputy Commissioner (relief) Umar Bin Riaz told Dawn.
Those moved to holding areas were provided with meals and later transported to the border crossing, the official added.
Breach of international conventions
The government’s actions have also attracted strong rebukes from political leaders and social activists.
Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) Chairman Mahmood Khan Achakzai has said the refoulement of Afghan refugees is a “matter of international humanitarian concern”.
Addressing a press conference with party leaders on Saturday, he said the policy was a breach of international conventions and Pakistan’s naturalisation laws.
He lamented that during the crackdown on Afghan refugees, law enforcement agencies had apprehended Pakhtuns, hailing from Pakistan, in various cities.
He also expressed concerns over blanket restrictions on cross-border movement, asserting that they would create “significant discontent” among Pakhtuns, particularly those residing near the border.
Saleem Shahid in Quetta also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2023