The last day to the deadline
The government of Pakistan launched a crackdown against illegal foreigners on October 3 while a deadline of November 1 was announced for the immigrants to voluntarily leave the country or face deportation. The program has been given the name of IFRP-The Illegal Foreigners Repatriation Plan.
The interim federal Minister for Interior, Sarfraz Bugti, categorically announced that that there will be, “No compromise” after the deadline.
Stats reveal that 90,000 Afghans have left the country and a number of families are driving back home via Torkham and Chaman borders to avoid the hassle of the deadline.
Breakdown of the Afghan Population in Pakistan
The government has recognized that a total of three million Afghans are residing all over the country out of which 1.7 million are unregistered and undocumented. The rest are the ones who have Proof of Registration with UNHCR or hold Afghan Citizen Card. As per UNHCR, the population of Afghan refugees has grown to 3.7 million while only 1.3 million are officially registered. There was a particular rise in the influx of the population after the exodus of American and NATO forces from Afghanistan. Breaking down the figures, it’s observed that as of June 2023, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa hosts 52.6 percent (735,800) of Pakistan’s undocumented Afghan population, Balochistan accounts for 24.1 percent (321,677), Punjab has 14.3 percent (191,053), Sindh houses 5.5 percent (73,789), Islamabad accommodates 3.1 percent (41,520), and Azad Jammu and Kashmir hosts 0.3 percent (4,352).
Government’s Repatriation plan
After November 1, raids will be conducted to bring all to “holding centres” and carry out the deportation plan. The government’s deportation plan as laid out by the caretaker Interior Minister is divided into three phases. The plan was laid out in detail in an interview with journalist Shehzad Iqbal on Geo TV. He clearly mentioned that this plan is for “all the Afghans” present in Pakistan and goes on to explain the varying types of them.
In phase one, refugees without any evidence of authorisation or travel documents will be brought to the deportation centres and will be sent to the borders to go back to Afghanistan.
The second phase includes the immigrants who have infiltrated the system of citizenship via illegal means. In the words of the interim minister, they have “breached” the system of NADRA.
The last phase includes the repatriation of the ones who hold documents or are registered with UNHCR. The Government will track them down eventually as “geo-mapping” is completed, claimed the Minister. Meanwhile, they can fully avail the opportunity of open borders to leave peacefully. The holding centers will serve as a temporary home for those to be deported by the Government in a matter of days. Centers are reportedly established in all the provinces and state machinery has been activated to get the task done in time.
Even though the Government is pledging to take action after November 1, there are multiple reports of raids being made in different cities before the deadline. For instance, one raid in Islamabad Marriot made it to the headlines as the Government arrested UK, asylum seekers. They have been waiting for two years in Pakistan withheld by the UK government in hopes of immigrating to UK, since the Taliban’s takeover. British High Commission has sped up the process after the raid.
Stance of the Pakistan’s government
The motives of the Pakistani government are clear. “In the 24 blasts that took place in the year 2023, 14 were carried out by Afgan nationals,” claimed the Interior Minister. He also claims Afghan nationals are involved in the rising crime ratio of the country. The government strongly denies allegations that the move is reactionary.
Status of Afghans in Pakistan’s society and economy
Afghan nationals residing in the country have a significant contribution to the economy. Most of them started out with small jobs involving physical labour but are now well-established. One such account is narrated by the spokesman of Anjuman-e-Tajiran Balochistan Haji Allah Dad Tareen who sees Pakistan as his home country as younger generations have been born and raised here and they made a living from scratch. “We did not have much economic stability in Quetta before the Afghan Civil War when the people came here, they had lands, agriculture, livestock back at home which were all sold and they invested their money in Pakistan to make a living. This is how the past forty years passed and their young generation belongs to Pakistan, completely. They were born here, they’ve grown up and got educated and completely assimilated in the society just like other locals have,” he said. It is one of many examples. According to Humayun Khan, an economic expert, the PTI Government under Imran Khan offered citizenship to these Afghan Nationals because they realized that if these Afghans went back, this would cause a “revenue drain” on Pakistan’s economy.
Reception of the Repatriation Program
The decision has invited mixed reactions from civil society, activists, journalists, politicians, and netizens from different walks of life.
Afghan government’s spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid called the decision “unacceptable”.
He also denounced the involvement of Afghans in the terrorist attacks in Pakistan. This indicates an impending rift between the two states.
In an interview for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Hina Jillani, with journalist Rabia Mehmood, called the decision “Irrational, unreasonable, unauthorized and unlawful.”
Hina Jilani, chair @HRCP87 emphasised in @NewWaveGlobal_ discussion that Pak interim govt has no mandate to set policy on expulsion of Afghan refugees/asylumseekers a decision which is irrational, unreasonable, unauthorised & unlawful by Pk state. pic.twitter.com/HdlNTpD0Q8— Rabia Mehmood – رابعہ (@Rabail26) October 30, 2023
Women’s Democratic Front exposed that the government is deporting the ones holding registration cards and is not allowing them to take their cattle and cash along with them.
The news that even the registered card holding refugees are being deported and are not being allowed to take their belongings especially cattle & cash is unjust and cruel. This further dispossesses an already marginalised people.— Women Democratic Front ناری جمھوری محاذ (@wdf_pk) October 30, 2023
Moniza Kakar, a human rights lawyer vocal about the pleas of Afghan refugees, along with Aurat March Karachi, organized a peaceful protest to call out the government on the forceful deportation of the Afghan Refugees.
Participated in a protest organized by #AuratMarch against Pakistan's unjust mass deportation of Afghan refugees. It was heartening to see a diverse group of civil society members from Karachi come together to raise their voices against this unjust policy. #RefugeeRights pic.twitter.com/4FsY8AAJhi— Moniza Kakar (@Moni_Kakar) October 29, 2023
Shafiq Ahmed, an advocate on Twitter, highlighted the issue of forceful expulsion of a huge population to a land they have fled from.
A refugee shall not be deported to a State where his life or liberty would be threatend for reasons of race , colour, religion, political belief or membership of a particular social group.#RefugeesRights #AfghanRefugees #StopDeportingAfghanRefugees— Shafiq Ahmad Adv (@ShafiqAhmadAdv3) October 30, 2023
Social scientist and thinker Nida Kirmani called out the proponents of the decision to stop putting a rosy spin on what is essentially inhuman.
Stop putting a rosy spin on what is essentially inhumane treatment, cruelty, xenophobia and racism.— Nida Kirmani (@NidaKirmani) October 30, 2023
In Geo TV’s show Report Card, journalist Mazhar Abbas questioned the capacity of NADRA to have complete information about all the illegal aliens countering the claims of Caretaker Interior Minister Bugti to have done complete geo-mapping.
Renowned Journalist Azaz Syed is critical of the decision and called it “emotional” in its spirit because many such attempts have been done before by UNHCR but it has turned out that they take the money and come back making use of the porous border.
پاکستان میں افغان مہاجرین کی وطن وآپسی پر بے جا جذباتی پن کا مظاہرہ کیا جارہا ہے۔ کاش ہم ہوش کے ناخن لیں۔ کینیڈا میں سلمی ا زاہد نامی پاکستانی نے 15 سال میں وہاں محنت کرکے اپنا مقام بنایا اور پارلیمینٹ کی رکن بنیں ہم اپنے ہم وطنوں کے لیے بیرون ممالک میں حقوق مانگتے ہیں مگر… pic.twitter.com/HHRRYDirr9— Azaz Syed (@AzazSyed) October 29, 2023
Irshad Bhatti, congratulated the Government and military leadership on this historic decision.
The government, however, has kept the decision intact and maintained that they are ready for the fallout if any because such hard decisions come with all the positives and negatives.
Hyderabad chapter of Aurat March refused to protest against the repatriation plan while the march was criticised by civil rights activist including Anis Haroon, retired Justice Majida Razvi and many others stating, “How long Sindh would bear the burden of illegal immigrants when it owns 37 percent of the rural population [that] lives below the poverty line?”
Bugti wants the move to be perceived as Pakistan’s change of image from a soft state to a “hardened” one. He asserted that Pakistani government is determined to send these foreigners to their homelands in a step-wise manner.