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Afghans flee Pakistan en masse: “We’d live here our whole life if they didn’t send us back”

Pakistan is set to begin forcibly removing 1.7 million migrants, many of them Afghans who fled the Taliban, Sky News reports.

Thousands of Afghans are fleeing Pakistan ahead of the government’s Wednesday deadline for undocumented or unregistered foreign nationals to leave the country.

Last month, Pakistan’s interim government threatened to round up, detain and deport those who do not leave the country voluntarily. Islamabad blames Afghan migrants for a surge in armed attacks, mainly in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the southwestern province of Balochistan on the border with Afghanistan.

The government says Kabul has ignored Taliban fighters hiding in Afghanistan, from where they return across the two countries’ 1,600-mile shared border and launch attacks inside Pakistan, which the Taliban deny.

However, UN agencies and human rights groups, as well as the Taliban-led Afghan administration, have criticised the decision to expel the migrants. According to the government, Pakistan is home to more than four million foreign nationals, the vast majority of whom are Afghans who have found refuge over the past four decades.

Pakistan’s Interior Ministry says 600,000 to 800,000 of them migrated in 2021 or after the Taliban returned to power. The ministry says there are about 1.7 million illegal migrants in Pakistan and all of them have been ordered to leave the country by 1 November.

Sarfraz Bugti, Pakistan’s interim interior minister, said in a video message on Tuesday that the operation would be “lengthy and gradual.” stated. He did not provide further details on the timeline. Mr Bugti denied refugees were being deported and said:

“Only those who are completely illegal will leave Pakistan.”

However, the UN refugee agency in Pakistan has urged the government to offer protection to those at risk of persecution. Qaiser Khan Afridi, a spokesperson for the agency, told Reuters news agency:

“We are asking the government to come up with a comprehensive system and… mechanism to manage and register people at immediate risk of persecution if forced to return. They cannot return, they can’t go back to Afghanistan because their freedom or their life might be at risk.”

According to the Pakistani government, more than 200,000 Afghans have returned home since the policy was announced, while the Taliban claim about 60,000 Afghan nationals have crossed the border.

More headed there today before the deadline, among them Mohammad Amin, who said his father came to Pakistan 40 years ago. Mr Amin, originally from Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province, said:

“He died here. My mother also died here and their graves are in Pakistan. We are going back today as we never tried to register ourselves as refugees with the UN refugee agency.”

Another Afghan national, born in Pakistan, married to a Pakistani woman and raising his Pakistani-born children in Karachi but without Pakistani documents, said he and his family were also planning to cross the border. He said:

“We’d live here our whole life if they didn’t send us back.”

Pakistani officials said the Torkam and Chaman border crossings with Afghanistan will remain open beyond their daily 4 p.m. closure to allow for those who have arrived there to leave the country.

A Taliban delegation traveled to Nangarhar Tuesday to find solutions for Afghans returning through the Torkham border. Sayed Ahmad Banwari, the deputy provincial governor, told state TV that local authorities are working hard to establish temporary camps. Banwari said that families with nowhere to go could stay in the camps for a month until they find a place to live.


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