Hundreds rounded up as crackdown on illegal aliens begin

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The government on Wednesday began rounding up undocumented foreigners, most of them illegal Afghans refugees, in all parts of the country after a midnight deadline for them to leave the country expired.

The removal of the people to temporary holding centres began a day earlier than previously announced. Moreover, the interior ministry said 140,322 people had already left voluntarily. Afghans made up the bulk of those to have left so far, including some of those living in Pakistan for decades.

Brushing off calls from the United Nations, rights groups and Western embassies to reconsider, Pakistan, while citing security concerns, set the November 1 start date last month for the expulsion of all undocumented immigrants.

“A process to arrest the foreigners… for deportation has started as of November 1,” the interior ministry said in a statement, adding that voluntary return would still be encouraged. Within hours of the ministry statement, authorities began detaining and transferring the undocumented foreigners to transit centres.

In Karachi, home to a large number of Afghan migrants and refugees, deputy commissioner Junaid Iqbal Khan said up to 74 people had so far been moved to one of the transit centres, up to 40 of them without any proper documents. Witnesses saw police bring some people in police vehicles. Inside the centre, authorities had set up tents to shelter those rounded up. Media were not allowed access inside.

About 7,000 Afghans went back to Afghanistan on Wednesday from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Officials said that 115 illegal Afghans – 64 incarcerated in Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi, and 51 in Peshawar Centeral Jail – were also deported via the Torkham border point.

Authorities on the Afghan side of the border have been overwhelmed by the scale of the exodus as they attempt to process those returning – some of whom are setting foot in Afghanistan for the first time in their lives. Samiullah Samoon, who leads immigration registration at Torkham, said the crossing was facing “an emergency situation”.

Most of the Afghan nationals were brought to the centres in rickety busses, some of them handcuffed. Some complained about mishandling by the authorities. Jan Muhammad, 40, said his cousin was detained even though he had all the legal documents.

Of the voluntary returnees, around 104,000 Afghan nationals left the country via the main Torkham border crossing during the last two weeks. “Some of them have been living in Pakistan for more than 30 years without any proof of registration,” said Nasir Khan, the area deputy commissioner.

The number of people leaving via the Chaman – another border crossing – in Balochistan has yet to be undetermined. Long queues of busses heading to the Torkham crossing were seen where thousands of people waited for clearance and would likely spend night in the open as the crossing closes at 9pm.

According to the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa home department, the authorities had set a target of 12,000 Afghans leaving on Thursday. Officials said that the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) teams would be on duty at Torkham and Peshawar registration centres till 11pm.

The operation had also set in motion in Punjab. Inspector General of Police Dr Usman Anwar said that the police engaged in the eviction of the illegal immigrants from the province would be wearing body cams so that any sort of human rights violation could be curbed.

Afghan Commissionerate officials told Daily City News  that the crackdown against illegal Afghan residents began on Wednesday, with those apprehended being brought to holding centres in Landi Kotal, where their information was recorded and they were subsequently repatriated.

An efficient one-window system, involving customs, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), and the Afghan Commissionerate, had been established to facilitate the clearance and deportation process, the officials added.

The Balochistan government has also initiated a crackdown against illegal immigrants, resulting in the detention of over 400 individuals by the police and Levies forces. The majority of these illegal immigrants were apprehended in Quetta, the provincial capital.

According to a senior police official, most of the illegal immigrants were Afghan nationals. Caretaker Balochistan Information Minister Jan Achakzai told a press conference that the crackdown against illegal immigrants would intensify throughout the province in the coming days.

Quetta Division Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat mentioned that six holding sites had been established in Quetta to temporarily house illegal immigrants before their repatriation. These sites aimed to facilitate the immigrants and ensure their timely return.

Of the more than 4 million Afghans living in Pakistan, the government estimates 1.7 million are undocumented. Many fled Afghanistan during its decades of internal conflict since the late 1970s, while the Taliban takeover after the US withdrawal in 2021 led to another exodus.

Pakistan has taken a hardline stance against those residing illegally, saying that such Afghan nationals had been behind militant attacks, smuggling and other crimes in the country. Kabul had dismissed the accusations.

In the Afghan capital, the Taliban administration asked all countries hosting Afghan refugees to give them more time to prepare for repatriation. “We call on them not to deport forcefully Afghans without preparation, rather give them enough time and countries should use tolerance,” it said.

In a social media posting on Afghans in Pakistan and elsewhere, it assured Afghans leaving over political concerns that they could return and live peacefully in Afghanistan. However, Pakistan remained firm that it would go ahead with its decision of deporting all illegal migrants.

Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti saw off 64 Afghans with a video on X, formerly Twitter, with a statement that this action was “testament to Pakistan’s determination to repatriate any individuals residing in the country without proper documentation.”

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