Pakistan plan for mass deportations of migrants draws UN criticism

The United Nations has warned Islamabad that its plans for the “phased and orderly” mass deportations of migrants, including up to 1.7 million Afghans, could threaten their safety after Pakistan announced a crackdown on people living in the country illegally.

Last week, Pakistan’s interior ministry announced that migrants residing in the country illegally were given 28 days to leave on their own accord and that “rewards” would be offered for information on those who do not go by the October 31 deadline.

The move prompted an outcry from some human rights groups, who said that deportations of Afghans would put them at risk in the Taliban-led country.

A joint statement from the International Organization for Migration and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees acknowledged Pakistan’s “sovereign prerogative” over its domestic policies. Still, it said a forced exodus could threaten migrants’ wellbeing.

Islamabad, however, has denied that the policy explicitly targets Afghan refugees.

“We have been hosting Afghan refugees generously for the past four decades,” Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, has stated.

She added that the policy is aimed at “individuals who are here illegally, no matter what their nationality is” and that any suggestion to the contrary is a “misunderstanding.”

The UN noted the plan would have “serious implications for all who have been forced to leave the country and may face serious protection risks upon return.” In August, the intergovernmental organization reported that hundreds of members of Afghanistan’s former US-backed government have been detained, tortured, or killed by the Taliban administration since it seized power in 2021.

Pakistan’s crackdown on illegal migrants comes at a time of increased hostilities between the government in Islamabad and Taliban authorities in neighboring Afghanistan. In the past 12 months, Pakistan has seen a surge in terrorist activity from groups within Afghanistan and others who have traversed into the country following Taliban-led crackdowns.

In a news conference last week, Pakistan’s caretaker interior minister, Sarfraz Bugti, said that Afghans were responsible for 14 of 24 terrorist attacks in the country in 2023.

“These are attacks on us from Afghanistan, and Afghan nationals are involved in these attacks,” Bugti added.

About 1.7 million Afghans live in Pakistan illegally, according to Islamabad officials. These include around 600,000 who fled the country after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in 2021, according to United Nations estimates.

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