Pakistan has ordered approximately 1.7 million unauthorised Afghan asylum seekers to leave the country by November. This move comes in the wake of escalating tensions along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, which Islamabad attributes to Afghanistan-based operatives. The situation has ignited a crackdown on what Pakistan terms “illegal” migrants, sparking international concern and a plea from the Taliban government in Afghanistan.
History of Afghan Refugees in Pakistan
For decades, Pakistan has played host to Afghan refugees fleeing conflict and instability in their homeland. The right to seek refuge in a foreign country is protected by international law, and Pakistan has accommodated hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees, especially after the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan in 2021. According to the United Nations, approximately 1.3 million Afghans are registered as refugees, with an additional 880,000 enjoying legal status within Pakistan.
Despite the historical generosity towards Afghan refugees, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Sarfraz Bugti, announced a crackdown on “illegal” Afghans residing in the country. The term “illegal” appears to reference those who have not yet secured refugee status. These individuals are now given a deadline to leave Pakistan by the end of November, either voluntarily or through forced deportation. The Interior Minister did not provide specific details regarding the logistics of such a mass operation.
Escalating Border Tensions
Backdrop to this crackdown is a surge in attacks along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, which Islamabad blames on militants operating from Afghanistan. These attacks have raised security concerns and fueled resentment in Pakistan. Notably, a recent blast at a mosque in Mastung city, near the border, killed at least 50 people during a religious celebration. However, it remains unclear if these incidents directly influenced the decision to expel Afghan asylum seekers.
International community and humanitarian organizations have expressed concern over Pakistan’s decision. The forced eviction of a significant number of vulnerable individuals raises serious human rights and humanitarian questions. Organizations are calling for a reconsideration of the move and urging Pakistan to uphold international obligations towards refugees.
The Taliban government in Afghanistan has repeatedly denied harboring militants targeting Pakistan. In response to Pakistan’s decision, they have called it “unacceptable” and emphasized that Afghan refugees are not involved in Pakistan’s security problems. The Taliban have urged Pakistan to rethink its stance and consider allowing Afghan refugees to leave voluntarily.
Local Authorities’ Actions
Local authorities in Pakistan have already started rounding up Afghan nationals, including those with and without legal status to remain. In the past two weeks, over 1,000 Afghans have reportedly been detained. The situation has added to the anxiety and uncertainty faced by Afghan asylum seekers in Pakistan.
Reports suggest that Pakistan ultimately aims to expel all Afghans from the country, including those with legal status and residence cards. While Pakistan cites security concerns for this action, the humanitarian aspect cannot be overlooked. The forced deportation of vulnerable individuals, many of whom have lived in Pakistan for years, poses significant ethical questions.
Pakistan’s decision to order unauthorised Afghan asylum seekers to leave the country by November has ignited a debate that encompasses security concerns, international obligations, and humanitarian considerations. While Pakistan contends that the move is driven by security issues, the forced eviction of such a large number of people raises questions about the application of international law and the treatment of vulnerable populations. The international community watches closely, hoping for a resolution that balances both security and human rights concerns in this complex and evolving situation along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.