Pakistan is setting up deportation centres for migrants who are in the country illegally, including an estimated 1.7 million Afghans, officials said on October 26. Anyone found staying in the country without authorization from next Wednesday (November 1) will be arrested and sent to one of centres.
The move is the latest development in a Pakistani government crackdown to expel foreigners without registration or documents.
Jan Achakzai, a spokesman for the government in southwestern Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, said three deportation centres were being set up there. One will be in Quetta, the provincial capital.
Azam Khan, the caretaker Chief Minister for northwest Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said the region also would have three deportation centres. More than 60,000 Afghans have returned home since the crackdown was announced, he said.
Migrants who are living in the country illegally should leave before a October 31 deadline to avoid arrest, he said.
Pakistan’s caretaker Interior Minister, Sarfraz Bugti, says the deadline will not be extended.
Mr. Bugti said during a news conference on October 26 that no migrants living in Pakistan without authorization illegally would be mistreated after their arrests. “They will not be manhandled,” he said, adding that they would get food and medical care until their deportations.
They are allowed to take a maximum of 50,000 Pakistani rupees ($180) out of the country, he said.
The Minister warned Pakistanis that action would be taken against them if they are found to be sheltering migrants who are in the country illegally after November 1.
The government has information about the areas where these migrants are hiding, Mr. Bugti said. Deporting them is a challenge for the state, but “nothing is impossible to achieve it,” he added.
The country hosts millions of Afghans who fled their country during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation. The numbers swelled after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021.
Pakistan says the 1.4 million Afghans who are registered as refugees need not worry. It denies targeting Afghans and says the focus is on people who are in the country illegally, regardless of their nationality.
In the southwest Pakistani border town of Chaman, tens of thousands of people protested the crackdown and new plans requiring the town’s residents to obtain a visa to cross the border into Afghanistan. They previously had special permits. The protesters included Afghans.
“We have relatives in Afghanistan. We also do business there; we have our shops there,” Allah Noor Achakzai, a 50-year old Pakistani, said
He said Afghans crossed the border into Pakistan everyday and returned home before the crossing closed, and that locals from both countries have gone back and forth on a daily basis for decades.
Last week, a group of former U.S. diplomats and representatives of resettlement organizations urged Pakistan not to deport Afghans awaiting U.S. visas under a program that relocates at-risk refugees fleeing Taliban rule.
The U.N. issued a similar appeal, saying the crackdown could lead to human rights violations, including the separation of families.