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Wednesday, April 17, 2024  
08 Shawwal 1445  

Pakistan speeds up Afghans’ repatriation after deadline expires

Kabul scrambles to deal with mass influx
Afghan nationals, who according to police were undocumented, speak to the members of the media from the window of a bus, as they were detained and shift to a temporary holding centre, after Pakistan gave the last warning to undocumented migrants to leave, in Karachi. Reuters
Afghan nationals, who according to police were undocumented, speak to the members of the media from the window of a bus, as they were detained and shift to a temporary holding centre, after Pakistan gave the last warning to undocumented migrants to leave, in Karachi. Reuters

Pakistan opened more border centres on Friday to speed up the return of tens of thousands of undocumented Afghan nationals, an official said, two days after a deadline for Afghans in the country illegally to leave.

Pakistan has brushed off calls from the United Nations, rights groups and Western embassies to think again about expelling more than a million of 4 million Afghans in the country, saying they had been involved in militant attacks and crimes that undermined the security of the country.

Afghanistan denies the accusations, saying Pakistani security is a domestic problem and calling on Pakistan to reconsider.

Facilities at the main northwestern border crossing of Torkham have been increased three times to cater for the rising number of returnees, said Abdul Nasir Khan, deputy commissioner for Khyber district.

“Everything is normal now as the returnees no longer need to wait in queues for hours,” he told Reuters of the situation at the crossing.

Those arriving in Afghanistan complained of hardships they had to face to move out of Pakistan and uncertainty over their future.

“We spent three days on border in Pakistan. We had very bad situation,” said Mohammad Ismael Rafi, 55, who said he lived for 22 years in the southwestern Pakistani border town of Chaman where he had a retail business.

“Thank God that we have arrived back to our country,” he said. It took him six days to leave his home in Pakistan with his 16 family members and belongings to reach a makeshift tent village on the other side of the border.

Rafi accused Pakistani officials of taking bribes to process his repatriation. Authorities deny that.

He has rented a house in Kandahar before moving to his ancestral home in Helmand province.

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Afghan schoolboy Sarfraz, 16, who goes by one name, said he and his father had never visited Afghanistan and did not want to go there now. His grandfather migrated to Pakistan decades ago.

“Where should we go?” he asked in response to a Reuters query in northwestern Peshawar. “There is no work there. We’re poor people. We are being forced. We have to leave.”

The Taliban administration in Afghanistan, scrambling to cope with the sudden influx, has set up temporary transit camps where food and medical assistance will be provided.

In a joint statement, the Norwegian Refugee Council, Danish Refugee Council and International Rescue Committee have reported chaotic and desperate scenes among those arriving in Afghanistan.

Pakistani authorities started rounding up foreigners, most of them Afghans, hours before the deadline. Undocumented people who do not leave face arrest and forcible expulsion.

Many of the migrants fled Afghanistan during the decades of armed conflict since the late 1970s, while the Taliban’s takeover after the withdrawal of US-led coalition forces in 2021 led to another exodus.

Khan, the official, said 19,744 Afghans had crossed the Torkham border on Thursday, 147,949 in total since the government announced the deadline. More than 35,000 undocumented Afghans have left through another southwestern Pakistani border crossing at Chaman.

Pakistani authorities said they were open to delaying repatriation for people with health or other issues that would bar them from travelling, including a seven-month pregnant woman who was told to stay in Pakistan to have her baby and then make the journey.

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