The United Nations has expressed concern over Pakistan’s plans to carry out mass deportations of migrants, including up to 1.7 million Afghans, warning that it could endanger their safety. Islamabad recently announced a crackdown on individuals living in the country illegally and gave them 28 days to leave voluntarily, offering rewards for information on those who do not comply by the October 31 deadline. Human rights groups have raised alarm over the potential deportation of Afghans, stating that it could put them at risk in the Taliban-led country.
Acknowledging Pakistan’s “sovereign prerogative” over its domestic policies, the International Organization for Migration and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees jointly issued a statement expressing concern that a forced exodus could threaten the wellbeing of the migrants. The UN agencies urged Pakistan to ensure that the deportations are carried out in a phased and orderly manner to minimize the risks faced by the individuals being deported.
Amidst the criticism, Pakistan’s interior ministry has denied explicitly targeting Afghan refugees with its policy. Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, emphasized that the focus is on individuals who are in the country illegally, regardless of their nationality. She dismissed any suggestion that the policy targets Afghan refugees as a misunderstanding.
However, the UN has warned that the mass deportations could have serious implications for all those forced to leave the country, as they may face significant protection risks upon their return. The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in 2021 has led to reports of detainment, torture, and killings of members of the country’s former US-backed government. The UN has expressed concern that the deported individuals could face similar risks.
It is essential to consider the context of the crackdown on illegal migrants in Pakistan. The country has experienced increased hostilities between its government and the Taliban authorities in neighboring Afghanistan. Over the past year, Pakistan has witnessed a surge in terrorist activities carried out by groups from Afghanistan and individuals who have crossed the border following Taliban-led crackdowns.
Sarfraz Bugti, Pakistan’s caretaker interior minister, revealed in a recent news conference that Afghans were responsible for 14 out of 24 terrorist attacks in the country in 2023. He emphasized that these attacks were initiated from Afghanistan, and Afghan nationals were involved. Bugti’s statement highlights the security concerns faced by Pakistan due to the activities of Afghan-based terrorist groups.
According to officials in Islamabad, around 1.7 million Afghans are residing in Pakistan illegally. This figure includes approximately 600,000 individuals who fled Afghanistan after the Taliban seized power in 2021, as estimated by the United Nations. The large number of Afghan migrants living in Pakistan without legal documentation has posed various challenges for the country, including socio-economic burdens and security risks.
In conclusion, the United Nations has cautioned Pakistan against carrying out mass deportations of migrants, particularly Afghans, citing concerns over their safety. While Pakistan asserts that its policy targets individuals who are in the country illegally, regardless of nationality, human rights groups and the UN have emphasized the potential risks faced by Afghan refugees in the Taliban-led Afghanistan. The ongoing hostilities between Pakistan and Afghanistan, coupled with the involvement of Afghan nationals in terrorist activities in Pakistan, have further complicated the issue. It remains crucial for Pakistan to address the concerns raised by the international community and ensure that any deportations are conducted in a phased and orderly manner to minimize the risks faced by the affected individuals.