‘Premature’ border closure leaves immigrants under open sky

Published November 7, 2023
AFGHAN refugees arrive on a truck from Pakistan, at a registration centre near the border in Spin Boldak area of Kandahar province, on Monday.—AFP
AFGHAN refugees arrive on a truck from Pakistan, at a registration centre near the border in Spin Boldak area of Kandahar province, on Monday.—AFP

PESHAWAR: A premature closure of Torkham border by the Afghan authorities on Sunday evening left scores of illegal immigrants, including women and children, under the open sky for several hours, compelling the Pakistani authorities to take the risk of shifting the families just before midnight to Peshawar instead of abandoning them at the border crossing.

Officials at this side of the border said illegal immigrants were being processed as a matter of routine for their repatriation to Afghanistan when the Afghan authorities closed the border crossing for movement at 7pm, hours ahead of the schedule, leaving as many as 284 individuals stranded at the crossing.

They said, “We were going on with our plan since we knew the gates will close at 9pm.” On Sunday, around 892 families had already returned when Afghan authorities closed the gate and stopped the cross border movement around 7pm, an official involved in processing the illegal immigrants’ repatriation told Dawn.

The 284 individuals, who had completed the process for repatriation, were waiting for their turn to cross the gate when the movement was stopped, leaving them there for almost three hours under the open sky.

Chaman protest will spread to other areas if demands not met, Achakzai warns

However, a senior official said, “We could not leave the 284 individuals including women and children at the border. At the same time, we could not take the risk of keeping those families in Landi Kotal’s holding area due to security concerns. [Eventually,] they were moved to Peshawar’s holding area in the dark.”

After this episode, however, it was decided that the operation, for sending illegal immigrants across the border, would stop at 4pm from Monday, as the authorities could not take any risk in the future. “If we have any immigrant voluntarily repatriating to Afghanistan after 4pm, we will shift them to the holding area in Peshawar and move them back to the border crossing next morning,” he added.

He stated that it was decided not to take further risk of shifting immigrants from the border crossing to the provincial capital and that too at midnight.

On Monday, the sixth day after the expiry of Oct 31 deadline, the voluntary repatriation resumed as 9,297 individuals — 2,883 men, 2,325 women and 4,089 children — crossed Torkham border, officials said. With the addition of these latest figures, a total of 184,174 illegal Afghan immigrants — 51,852 men, 39,556 women and 92,766 children — have returned to their homeland since Sept 17, the officials added.

Besides, officials said, 30 individuals including seven men, six women and 17 children were also repatriated via Pak-Afghan border crossing at Angoor Adda in South Waziristan district.

Protest in Chaman

Meanwhile, the traders’ alliance and political parties continued their protest near Chaman border against the government decision that people from Pakistan and Afghanistan would be allowed border crossing only if they have valid passports and visas.

While addressing the protesters, Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) Chairman Mahmood Khan Achakzai said the government should stand by its earlier commitment to the people of Quetta and Kandahar regarding border crossing with valid Computerised National Identity Cards (CNIC) instead of passports and visas.

“Today, some tribal lands straddle both Afghanistan and Pakistan, making the imposition of passport requirements impractical,” he argued, declaring that the protest would continue not only in Chaman but also in other parts of the Pashtun region until their demands were met.

About border trade, he questioned the restriction on certain items that were allowed through airports but prohibited at Durand Line crossing points. He said the government should establish custom houses at crossing points and carry out checking up to its satisfaction. But once cleared, the goods should not be checked again and again after every few kilometres by law enforcement agencies, he maintained.

Saleem Shahid in Quetta also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, November 7th, 2023

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