Illegal Afghans begin journey back home after Pakistan sets Nov 1 deadline
ISLAMABAD: Aghan immigrants residing illegally in Pakistan have started leaving the country after Islamabad issued a November 1 ultimatum to them, officials told.
The border officials, on Thursday, said more than 30 families comprising approximately 1,000 members have begun their journey back to war-torn Afghanistan following Caretaker Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti’s announcement that action will be taken against those staying illegally in Pakistan.
To accommodate the returnees, authorities have assigned a parking area at the Torkham border, ensuring staff deployment for attending to them and registration completion.
According to the officials, Afghan families in cities across the country have begun their departure to avoid being arrested and other consequences that could follow due to their illegal residence.
Baryalay Hasrat, a resident of Laghman province in Afghanistan, shared with that his family of nine members had been living in Nowshera for the past 20 years.
He said although they possessed Afghan Citizen cards issued by the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), they were voluntarily returning to Afghanistan, as the economic and security situation in their country was better compared to Pakistan.
Hasrat urged fellow Afghans to leave Pakistan, citing difficulties in paying utility bills and the lack of stable job opportunities and businesses.
The Afghan citizens also requested financial assistance for those returning to Afghanistan, to enable them to rebuild their houses and start their livelihoods there.
Previously, Pakistan had requested all illegal immigrants to leave the country voluntarily by October 30 and warned of arrests and deportations after the deadline’s expiration.
On the other hand, a significant number of Afghan citizens residing in various Pakistani cities appealed for flexibility in the conditions as they said that their children were receiving education in Pakistan.
They expressed concerns that the abrupt departure would disrupt their children’s education. They were particularly worried about girls’ education in Afghanistan, as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan had banned girls’ from going to school.
‘No change in policy for Afghan refugees’
Meanwhile, speaking for the first time on the recently announced policy of regulating all illegal aliens residing in Pakistan irrespective of their nationality, the Foreign Office clarified that Pakistan’s national policy on Afghan refugees remains unchanged.
“We continue to host 1.4 million Afghan refugees with exemplary generosity and empathy despite resource constraints, and economic challenges. As the situation in Afghanistan stabilises, we believe that it is the right time to upscale international efforts to create conditions conducive to the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees with honour and dignity,” said the spokesperson at the Foreign Office during the weekly media briefing.
She emphasised that Pakistan’s recent decision is not targeted against Afghan refugees.
“The decision of the Government of Pakistan is aimed at regulating illegal aliens residing in Pakistan, irrespective of their nationality. And Pakistan is well within the parameters of our sovereign domestic laws to act in this context,” she added.
Reacting to criticism about Afghan and other citizens being forcibly returned, the spokesperson said, “I would also like to state that the government’s policy envisages a phased and time-bound repatriation of all illegal foreigners residing in Pakistan. These include cases of individuals who are overstaying their visas and do not possess valid documentation. And I reiterate this is not directed against any specific nationality.”
With regards to the question about engagement with the Afghan authorities, she pointed out that Pakistan remains in contact with Afghan authorities and will continue to engage with them on all matters of bilateral interest, including the safe return of the refugees.
“However, as I said the latest decision pertains to illegal migrants and it does not pertain to refugees; these are two separate cases,” she said. On threats from across the Western borders, Pakistan says it has very clearly articulated its concerns about the threat of terrorism that it faces emanating from Afghanistan.
“This statement has been made by Pakistan on several occasions, including at international conferences and forums. At the same time, we believe in diplomacy and dialogue, and we will continue to engage with Afghan authorities to fight this threat and to ensure that Afghan soil is not used to foment terrorism against Pakistan,” said the FO spokesperson.
Regarding the repatriation of any foreigners who may be living here illegally, she said that the laws of Pakistan will take their course.
The Government of Pakistan will undertake this exercise in a phased, deliberate and orderly manner.
“The process will proceed depending on the number of illegal immigrants in Pakistan and the arrangements for their return to their respective countries,” she added.
“For individuals who violate Pakistani immigration laws, there are punishments in place and there are ways to deal with such cases, including repatriation to their home countries. With regards to the details on the procedures and the financial aspects of it, I would advise you to contact the relevant ministry, the Ministry of Interior which is in charge of law and order and in implementing this policy,” she advised.
‘Afghan FM to visit Pakistan next week’
Meanwhile, Pakistan and Afghanistan on Thursday met at a high-level meeting in Tibet where Islamabad reaffirmed its commitment to further strengthen bilateral ties with Kabul.
The meeting the first since Pakistan announced that it was asking all illegal aliens and migrants to leave the country took place in Tibet at an international conference organised by China.
The bilateral meeting between caretaker Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani and his Afghan counterpart Amir Khan Muttaqi was announced by the Foreign Office before Pakistan’s new policy was announced.
“The foreign minister underscored that challenges confronting regional peace and stability be addressed in collaborative spirit through collective strategies,” said the Foreign Office without giving further details.
During the meeting in Nyingchi city of China’s autonomous Tibet region, Jalil Abbas told his Afghan counterpart that the decision regarding expulsion of illegal foreigners from Pakistan from November 1 wouldn’t be revisited since it has been taken at the highest level after a thorough study of the situation and in the best interest Pakistan.
Highly placed diplomatic sources told Thursday evening that the interim FM made it clear that the decision is not Afghan illegal immigrants-specific but it would cater all those who are living in Pakistan without any legal authority.
The sources said that Jalil Abbas told Amir Khan Muttaqi that the Afghan nationals staying without any documents, and leaving Pakistan before the deadline determined by the government, would be facilitated and provided an honourable exit.
He said that Kabul should understand the situation that compelled it to take the complex decision.
Interim Afghan foreign minister would visit Pakistan for further discussion next week. His visit would be worked out by the two capitals through diplomatic channels, the sources said.
Pakistan’s interim foreign minister appreciated the command of Imaarat Afghanistan Amir Mulla Haibutullah that Afghan soil would not be permitted to be used for subversive activities in Pakistan.
The sources pointed out that the issue of terrorist sanctuaries in Afghanistan was agitated by Pakistan as a central subject.
Jalil Abbas reminded the interim Afghan government that it would have to fulfil its commitment to deny any facility to terrorist groups, including outlawed TTP, to operate from Afghanistan.
Muttaqi restated his government’s stance claiming that Kabul would not allow anyone to use its soil against any country, including Pakistan.
‘Inhumane and barbaric’
Meanwhile, acting Defense Minister of Afghanistan Mullah Yaqub termed Pakistan’s decision, “inhumane and barbaric”. He urged Pakistani religious scholars as well as the international community to persuade Pakistan to review its decision. He also said that such a move by Pakistan would create tensions between the two countries.
The sources said that Yaqoob’s statement lacks any reason.
The BBC quoted Yaqub as urging people and religious scholars of Pakistan to help stop operation against Afghans. He also requested the Afghan investors living in Pakistan to invest their wealth in their country instead of Pakistan.
“We request all the rich Afghans who are living in Pakistan to transfer all their wealth and capital that we have invested there to Afghanistan as soon as possible and destroy their economy, which was built on your belief, and bring them back to our country. “
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