After hosting Afghan refugees for 45 years, Pakistan has decided to repatriate 1.1 million illegal Afghan refugees, issuing a one-month deadline for them to voluntarily return to Afghanistan. The government cites security concerns and the involvement of Afghan nationals in terror attacks as reasons for the decision.
According to caretaker Interior Minister Sarfaraz Bugti, there have been 24 reported suicide attacks in Pakistan this year, with 14 carried out by Afghan nationals, including the deadly Peshawar Police Lines suicide bombing.
Despite a decline in violence since the departure of US-led NATO troops and the Taliban’s takeover, concerns persist. A report by the European Union Agency for Refugees (EUAA) in May 2022 estimates around 3 million Afghan nationals living in Pakistan. Of these, 1.4 million hold Proof of Registration (POR) cards, 8.5 million have Afghan Citizen Cards (ACC), and the rest are undocumented refugees. Reports suggest that nearly 700,000 Afghans fled Pakistan after the Taliban seized Kabul in 2021.
The UNHCR, Afghanistan government, political analysts, and security experts have reacted to the decision. Analysts and experts believe that the move stems from Kabul’s lack of response to Islamabad’s demands to curb the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) activities. Relations soured further after Islamabad informed Kabul about TTP militants’ movements before the Chitral attack on September 6, but the attack proceeded, resulting in the deaths of 12 TTP members.
Political analyst Dr. Ijaz Khattak suggests that Pakistan aims to pressure the Taliban to act against the TTP. However, he expresses concerns about potential political and diplomatic repercussions, emphasizing that international norms prohibit forcibly repatriating asylum seekers. He argues that individuals found guilty of crimes should be arrested and punished.
Retired Brigadier Nazir Mohmand believes that with peace restored in Afghanistan and a stable currency, it is appropriate for refugees to return home. He suggests reciprocal responsibility, proposing that if Kabul does not address Pakistan’s concerns about TTP, Afghanistan should handle its refugee issue.
Treatment of Afghan refugees in Pakistan unacceptable: Afghanistan
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has reacted to Pakistan’s refugees repatriation decision and urged Islamabad to reconsider its stance. Afghan Taliban Spokesperson Zaibullah Mujaheed, in a post on social media platform X, said that the treatment of Afghan refugees in Pakistan unacceptable.
UNHCR Reaction to Afghan refugees :
The UNHCR expresses dismay at the decision to deport undocumented Afghan refugees and urges that they be allowed to exit voluntarily without pressure.
Despite the one-month ultimatum, the government has initiated a crackdown on illegal foreigners across the country, resulting in over two thousand Afghan nationals’ arrests in various provinces and called for both countries to activate diplomatic channels for a sensible resolution.