ISLAMABAD: The United States said on Thursday it expected Pakistan to fulfil its obligations to Afghan refugees and asylum seekers, as Pakistan intensifies a crackdown on Afghans crossing the border without visas and valid travel documents.
Pakistan is home to around 2.8 million Afghan refugees, including 1.5 million registered and 1.3 million unregistered Afghan nationals, according to the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR. After the Taliban takeover of the war-battered country in August 2021, some 250,000 additional Afghans took shelter in neighboring Pakistan.
Even before Taliban rule, Afghans had for decades been traveling to neighboring Pakistan to escape war and persecution in their country and seek employment and medical treatment as Afghanistan’s own health system, understaffed, under-equipped and underfunded for years is at the brink of collapse.
Many of the travelers cannot afford visas and many have no travel documents at all.
In response to a question on a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan, including women and children, State Department Spokesman Ned Price said the US was discussing the issue with Pakistani counterparts.
“We’re in regular discussion with our Pakistani counterparts about this. We encourage all states to uphold their respective obligations with regard to Afghan refugees or asylum seekers, and to refrain from returning them to anywhere where they could face persecution or torture,” the spokesperson said.
Price’s comments come as four Afghans jailed for entering Pakistan without valid travel documents have died since October 2022.
Reporters also asked questions about recent a arrest warrant issued in Pakistan for ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan, arguably the country’s most popular politician, and concerns about rising political unrest in the South Asian country.
“These are questions for the Pakistani people, these are not questions for the United States,” Price said.
“As I’ve said before, we support the peaceful upholding of democratic, constitutional, and legal principles around the world, including in Pakistan.”