THIS is with reference to the article ‘Forced expulsion’ (Nov 8) which was critical of the government’s decision to deport all illegal migrants from Pakistan’s territory. The criticism, to me, was not based on facts. Pakistan had acted as a frontline state against Soviet expansion in Afghanistan, and had been hosting the refugees since 1979.
The Pakistan-Afghanistan border was kept intentionally porous to allow free movement of people from both sides of the border. Due to divided tribes and lax border controls, a large number of Afghans would enter and leave the country at will, spawning a culture of self-assumed ‘exemption’ from visa due to geopolitical unrest in Afghanistan.
In the absence of domestic laws governing the asylum issues, except the Foreigners Act, 1946, Pakistan did not have any laws covering settlement or repatriation issues of refugees. In 1993, a trilateral agreement involving the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Pakistan and Afghanistan gave asylum jurisdiction to the UN agency.
In 2007, the UNHCR and the Pakistan government started a process to register Afghan refugees by issuing them Proof of Registration (PoR) Card. Later, in 2017, the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (Safron) introduced the Afghan Citizenship Card scheme to register some 0.83 million Afghan migrants, who had come in waves later for a variety of reasons, and included well-educated and affluent people.
The objective was to keep them as identified Afghans and to later facilitate their legal repatriation. Another 0.7 million migrants entered Pakistan after the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan in 2021. These people entered Pakistan on varying pretexts, the chief amongst those was to get their visas processed from the embassies of Western countries.
Presently, there are about four million Afghans living in Pakistan; 1.4 million with PoR cards, 0.83 million with Afghan Citizenship cards, and more than 1.7 million undocumented Afghans, including the 0.7 million who came after 2021.
The countries that had promised the resettlement of the refugees are now dithering over visa issues, burdening Pakistan further. Pakistan, like the US, is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, 1951, and its Additional Protocol that was signed in 1967, but has still hosted millions of Afghans for over four decades despite having limited resources for its own population.
The Western countries, despite their huge resources, are not so munificent when it comes to absorbing refugees. Pakistan, on the other hand, has suffered seriously in every sense of the word owing to illegal migrants.
Now when the interim government in Afghanistan itself claims that it has established peace and order in areas falling under its jurisdiction, what is it exactly that is preventing it from welcoming its own citizens? Why should Pakistan keep hosting undocumented illegal migrants? Have countries like Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan displayed the same blithe disregard to border control and illegal migration?
The government in Pakistan needs to be firm and consistent in its approach towards the planned deportation of illegal migrants. It owes this resolve to the countless martyrs who have laid down their lives fighting crime and terrorism.
Brig (retd) Dr Raashid Wali Janjua
Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2023