Pakistan announces big crackdown on migrants who entered the country illegally

Interior Minister says government would set up a special phone line to offer rewards to members of the public who tip off authorities about such migrants


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Published: Tue 3 Oct 2023, 7:47 PM

Pakistan’s government announced a major crackdown Tuesday on migrants in the country illegally, saying it would expel them starting next month and raising alarm among foreigners without documentation, who include an estimated 1.7 million Afghans.

The country’s caretaker Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti said the crackdown was not aimed at Afghans and would apply to all nationalities.

The campaign comes amid strained relations between Pakistan and neighbouring, Taliban-led Afghanistan over what the Pakistani government says are attacks in Pakistan by Taliban-allied militants who go back and forth across the countries’ shared 2,611-kilometre (1,622-mile) border, and who find shelter in Afghanistan.

Bugti said that any migrants in Pakistan illegally should go back to their countries voluntarily before the end of October to avoid mass arrest and forced deportation. He said the government planned to confiscate the property and assets of illegal migrants, and would set up a special phone line to offer rewards to members of the public who tip off authorities about such migrants.

“Anyone living in the country illegally must go back,” he said.

This is the first time that the government has announced such a major crackdown on illegal immigration.

The major shift in immigration policy comes during a caretaker government, which is intended to tide the country over during interim periods between the end of a five-year National Assembly and elections. Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul-Haq-Kakar took power in August and is supposed to rule until elections planned for the end of January.

A government statement said the new migration policy was endorsed during a high-level meeting Tuesday among Pakistan’s political leadership and the country’s military.

Fazal Rehman, a 57-year-old Afghan fruit seller in the northwestern city of Peshawar, said he arrived in Pakistan 30 years ago and that his children have never been to Afghanistan. He said he had never felt the need to register with Pakistani authorities and now fears it is too late to do so.

“We request the Pakistan government not to expel us in such a hasty way and allow us either to live here peacefully, or we should be given at least six months to one year time to go back,” he said.

Pakistan has been a haven for Afghan refugees since millions fled Afghanistan during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation, creating one of the world’s largest refugee populations. Additional Afghans have fled since then, including an estimated 100,000 since the Taliban seized control of the country in August 2021.

Currently, there are 4.4 million Afghans living in Pakistan, including an estimated 1.7 million who are unregistered, Bugti said. Any Afghans who have registered with Pakistani authorities need not worry about the crackdown, he said.

Some 2.4 million Afghans have refugee status, Bugti said, which allows them to get a government ID card that they can use for everyday activities like banking or registering for school.

After seizing power in 2021, Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers announced a pardon for Afghans who had fled and urged them to come back, but most of them are staying in Pakistan or elsewhere in hopes of emigrating to other countries including the United States.


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