Pakistan is starting to arrest and mass deport thousands of Afghan refugees back to the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
In October 2023, the Pakistani government told undocumented foreigners to leave the country by Nov. 1 or face arrest and deportation.
There are about four million Afghan migrants and refugees in Pakistan, and about 1.7 million of them are undocumented.
At least 600,000 of them fled to Pakistan after the Taliban’s takeover in 2021, according to the UN, while many others have lived in Pakistan for decades.
Pakistan’s government said the move was due to security reasons and not aimed at Afghans, even though Afghans make up the majority of migrants and refugees in the country.
“Our policy is only about … individuals who are here illegally, no matter what their nationality is,” a government spokesperson said.
It said that Afghans who are registered as refugees would not be targeted, but rights groups say there have still been incidents of this happening.
“The government says to go back, even though we have these cards. This level of problem has never happened in the past,” the man told BBC.
Since the announcement, at least 250,000 Afghans have already left Pakistan.
Many of them told Reuters that they felt compelled to leave even if they had documentation because they were scared they would be separated from undocumented family members
On Nov. 1, security forces started launching raids to arrest and deport undocumented foreigners.
The crackdown has been widely criticized by human right groups, who say that minorities such as girls, women and journalists, face high risks if they return back to the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Since taking power of Afghanistan’s government, the Taliban has increasingly restricted women’s rights, including banning girls from going to high school and university.
The influx of refugees is also putting pressure on Afghanistan, which is already struggling due to international sanctions and foreign aid cuts against the Taliban.
People at the border said they were staying in shelters with limited access to water and food and had no lighting or toilets.
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