‘We go out like thieves’: Afghan refugees face crackdown against ‘illegal’ immigrants in Karachi

A man walks past as children play in a street in the Al-Asif Square neighborhood, mostly populated with Afghan refugees, on the outskirts of Karachi on September 20, 2023. (AN Photo)
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Updated 21 September 2023

‘We go out like thieves’: Afghan refugees face crackdown against ‘illegal’ immigrants in Karachi

  • Afghan envoy in Karachi says over 900 arrested since crackdown on Sept. 9
  • Afghan refugees say police take bribes, refuse to acknowledge legal documents

KARACHI: Nazia Saif, an Afghan refugee residing in a small apartment in Karachi’s busy Al-Asif Square area, is concerned with what the future holds for her after police arrested her husband, a daily wager, last Monday on charges of being an illegal Afghan immigrant. With her husband gone and a family to feed, Saif wonders who will put food on the table for them.

Pakistan launched a crackdown against illegal immigrants in the country on Saturday, Sept. 9. Police rounded up hundreds of Afghan citizens in Pakistan’s financial hub Karachi, accusing them of being illegal immigrants in the country. Last Friday, Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said Pakistan would repatriate all illegal Afghan immigrants to curb smuggling of goods and foreign currency.

Pakistan first opened its borders to Afghan refugees in the 1980s after the beginning of a US-sponsored and Pakistan-backed ‘Afghan jihad’ to counter the so-called expansionist designs of the former Soviet Union, becoming the largest refugee-hosting country in the world. As per the UN, over 4.4 million Afghan refugees have returned to their homeland since 2002 under a UNHCR-assisted voluntary repatriation program, but around 1.4 million still live in refugee camps, villages and urban centers across Pakistan.

“My husband used to work hard to feed his children. Now, when they arrested him, what will we do?” Saif, 28, told Arab News, adding that Saif-Ud-Din possessed Proof of Registration (PoR) Card, which entitles Afghan immigrants to legally stay in Pakistan.

“This is not how the law works, it has some rules.”

Nazia Saif, 28, an Afghan refugee residing in the Al-Asif Square neighborhood, gestures with her children during an interview with Arab News in Karachi on September 20, 2023. (AN Photo)

Saif-Ud-Din, 32, was selling fries at a roadside stall when police arrested him on Sept.11. Afghan Consul General in Karachi, Syed Abdul Jabbar, said over 900 individuals have been arrested since Sept. 9 when the crackdown began. Two hundred individuals have since then been released, he said.

“More than 900 have been arrested and the crackdown still goes on and the police continues to harass Afghan refugees with legal documents,” Jabbar told Arab News.

Arab News reached out to the Sindh Chief Minister’s office, the Inspector-General of Police and Karachi police chief to comment on the allegations but did not receive a response. Pakistani police authorities have in the past rejected allegations they harass Afghan immigrants legally entitled to stay in Pakistan.

Karachi police spokesperson Rehan Khan confirmed to Independent Urdu on Tuesday police had initiated a crackdown against illegal Afghan immigrants since Sept. 9. He said police had arrested a total of 545 illegal Afghan immigrants from Sept. 9-14.

Hajji Abdullah, the head of the Afghan refugees in Sindh, said he had data that indicated that 1,200 people had been transferred to jails since Sept. 9 while 3,800 secured their release after allegedly paying bribes to police.

A group of Afghan refugees, residing in the Al-Asif Square neighborhood, carry Proof of Registration cards on camera during an interview with Arab News in Karachi on September 20, 2023. (AN Photo)

Hailing from Kunduz in Afghanistan, most of Saif’s family members, including her brother Ihsan Khan, were born in Pakistan. Khan is also among the Afghan refugees who were arrested in the crackdown.

“He [Khan] was arrested just a day earlier as well, and they took his Rs1,000 ($3.39) wage and destroyed the photocopy of his card,” Saif lamented, as her mother chimed in, saying that the arrests had devastated the family.

“Who will take care of the household needs? Who will arrange the food, as my son is in jail,” she asked.

In the wake of these arrests, the family prohibited Salahuddin, Saif-ud-Din’s younger brother, from venturing outside. Salahuddin has been confined to his home for the past nine years.

“When I went to the market today to buy fruit, a policeman took Rs7,000 [$23.75] from me,” Salahuddin, 20, told Arab News. “He threatened me, saying that if I didn’t give him the money, he would take me to Gulshan-e-Maymar’s jungle and kill me in an encounter.”

Naqeebullah Khan, another refugee, said Afghans felt compelled to either stay indoors or, if they must go out, take their young children along as a form of protection against police.

“When we go out, we have to make our little child sit on the motorcycle, as if he is our passport and ID card,” he said. “We do have the cards, but they don’t work in front of the police. We go out on roads like thieves.”

This dire situation, as described by Abdullah, has restrained Afghans to their homes, with people unable to conduct business or earn daily wages to support their families.

“For the last 12 days, Afghan homes have turned into prisons,” Abdullah said.

Pakistan inaugurates ‘pivotal’ polio campaign to immunize over 45.8 million children

Updated 25 February 2024

Pakistan inaugurates ‘pivotal’ polio campaign to immunize over 45.8 million children

  • Polio volunteers to immunize children under five years old from Feb. 26 to March 3, says national health ministry 
  • Many believe in the conspiracy theory that polio vaccines are part of a Western ploy to sterilize Pakistan’s population

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s federal health secretary Iftikhar Shallwani on Sunday inaugurated a nationwide campaign against polio that aims to immunize over 45.8 million children against the disease, the national health ministry said. 

Pakistan is one of only two countries in the world where polio is endemic. The disease affects the nervous system of children and ultimately leads to paralysis.

The South Asian country’s efforts to contain polio have often been met with opposition, especially in the country’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where militants have carried out attacks against vaccinators and the security teams guarding them. 

Many believe in the conspiracy theory that polio vaccines are part of a plot by Western outsiders to sterilize Pakistan’s population. 

Shallwani inaugurated the campaign, which is set to launch nationwide on Monday, by administering polio drops to children. 

“This pivotal campaign, scheduled from Feb 26 to Mar 3, aims to immunize over 45.8 million children under the age of 5 across the country,” the Ministry of National Health Services wrote on X platform. 

Shallwani said polio is a “terrible” disease that can cause paralysis in children.

“Unfortunately, it continues to be a threat to our children because some people refuse to vaccinate children based on misconceptions and false information about the vaccine,” he said. 

He said volunteers will deliver the vaccine to people’s doorsteps from next week, requesting parents to cooperate with them. 

“I implore you to recognize the threat posed by the poliovirus to your children and ensure that you open your doors to facilitate their vaccination,” the health official said. 

Pakistani masses’ doubts regarding polio campaigns were exacerbated in 2011 when the US Central Intelligence Agency set up a fake hepatitis vaccination program to gather intelligence on former Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. 

Undefeated Quetta lock horns with Multan Sultans in PSL 9 clash today

Updated 25 February 2024

Undefeated Quetta lock horns with Multan Sultans in PSL 9 clash today

  • Multan Sultans lost their first match of the tournament to Peshawar Zalmi this week 
  • Despite the loss, the Sultans top the Pakistan Super League points table due to strong run rate

ISLAMABAD: The undefeated Quetta Gladiators will be put to the test today, Sunday, when they face table-toppers Multan Sultans in match number 11 of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2024 set to take place in Multan. 

The Sultans sit pretty at the top of the table with six points from four matches. However, they lost to former champions Peshawar Zalmi on Friday by five wickets at their home ground in Multan. 

Under new skipper Rilee Rossouw, however, the Gladiators have won all three matches of theirs. 

“I am aware of the conditions on Multan hence I don’t encounter any difficulties playing there,” Rossouw said. “Every match is a new contest, we will implement our plan to win it.”

The Gladiators have the same number of points as the Gladiators, six, from three matches. However, they are placed at number two on the table due to a net run rate of +0.686. The Sultans have a run rate of +0.812 from their four matches. 

The match between the two sides is expected to begin at 2:00 p.m.

Playing XIs (probable):

Multan Sultans: Mohammad Rizwan (c & wk), Dawid Malan, Reeza Hendricks, Yasir Khan, Iftikhar Ahmed, Khushdil Shah, David Willey, Usama Mir, Abbas Afridi, Mohammad Ali, Shahnawaz Dahani

Quetta Gladiators: Saud Shakeel, Jason Roy, Rilee Rossouw (c), Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), Khawaja Nafay, Shefane Rutherford, Akeal Hosein, Abrar Ahmed, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Wasim, Mohammad Hasnain

Pakistan’s Sindh Assembly to elect speaker, deputy speaker today 

Updated 25 February 2024

Pakistan’s Sindh Assembly to elect speaker, deputy speaker today 

  • Election for the post of Sindh chief minister is scheduled to be held on Monday
  • Saturday’s swearing-in of newly elected legislators was marred by political protests

KARACHI: Elections for the coveted posts of speaker and deputy speaker of Pakistan’s Sindh Assembly will be held today, Sunday, state-run media said, a day after newly elected members of the assembly were sworn in. 

Saturday’s oath-taking ceremony was marred by protests in Karachi staged by supporters of various political parties who allege that the Feb. 8 elections were heavily rigged. 

Supporters of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Grand Democratic Alliance, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) and other nationalist parties gathered near the provincial assembly in Karachi’s southern zone to protest alleged manipulation of Feb. 8 election, which was marred by a mobile network outage and delays in release of constituency results.

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which bagged the highest number of seats in Sindh, has nominated Murad Ali Shah, former Sindh chief minister, for the top provincial office once again. The party has also nominated Syed Owais Shah for the role of speaker, and Anthony Naveed for the post of deputy speaker of the Sindh provincial assembly.

“Elections of speaker and deputy speaker of Sindh Assembly will be held on Sunday,” the state-run Radio Pakistan said in a report. “On the other hand, the election of Sindh Chief Minister will be held tomorrow (Monday).”

The PPP bagged 84 seats in the southern Pakistani province, followed by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) which secured 28 seats, while 14 seats were won by independent candidates. The JI and the GDA won two seats each.

While the inaugural Sindh Assembly session was in progress, several Pakistani parties on Saturday announced they would observe February 27 as a “Black Day” in response to Sindh police firing tear gas at their supporters protesting suspected rigging in the general elections earlier this month.

In view of the protest calls, the Sindh caretaker government on Friday imposed a ban under Section 144 on public assembly, gatherings, protests, processions, and demonstrations in Karachi’s South zone, where the provincial legislature is located, for a period of 30 days, according to the provincial home department.

Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) empowers the administration to issue orders in public interest and place a ban on any activity for a specific period of time.

Ex-PM Sharif’s party bags deputy speaker post in Punjab Assembly 

Updated 25 February 2024

Ex-PM Sharif’s party bags deputy speaker post in Punjab Assembly 

  • Zaheer Iqbal Channar defeats Sunni Ittehad Council’s Moin Riaz to become deputy speaker Punjab Assembly
  • Sharif’s PML-N party on Saturday clinched the coveted post of speaker in the Punjab Assembly as well

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party this week bagged the post of deputy speaker in the Punjab Assembly, with elections for the chief minister in Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province scheduled to be held on Monday. 

Malik Ahmed Khan, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) candidate for speaker, was elected as the custodian of the house against the Sunni Ittehad Council’s (SIC) candidate, Malik Ahmad Khan Bhachar, on Saturday in the 371-member house. Khan polled 224 votes while Bhachar secured 96.

Meanwhile, the PML-N’s nominee Zaheer Iqbal Channar won the election for the deputy speaker’s post on Saturday, defeating his opponent from the SIC, Moin Riaz. The election of the speaker and deputy speaker was held through secret ballot in the house.

“Zaheer Iqbal Channar has taken oath as deputy speaker of the Punjab Assembly,” the PML-N wrote on social media platform X on Saturday. In a video uploaded with the post, Khan can be seen administering oath to Channar. 

Meanwhile, the nominations for the chief minister of Punjab’s election are supposed to be received by the Punjab Assembly today, Sunday, while elections for the coveted post are scheduled to be held on Monday. 

Members of former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party who won the polls had joined the SIC to claim their share of the reserved seats in the assembly since they contested as independents. But the issue is pending before the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) which is yet to make a decision on the matter.

As the SIC’s Mian Aslam Iqbal— who is wanted by the police in multiple legal cases— could not take oath in the Punjab Assembly as a legislator on Saturday, the PTI announced it has nominated Aftab Ahmad Khan to run for the office of chief minister of Punjab against the PML-N’s candidate, Maryam Nawaz Sharif.

“After consulting Mian Aslam Iqbal, the party leadership and Aslam Iqbal have decided to nominate Aftab Ahmad Khan for the chief minister’s election,” the PTI said on social media platform X. 

The Punjab Assembly is the largest elected house in the country comprising 297 general seats and 74 reserved seats.

Monday’s election will likely see Maryam Nawaz Sharif, the daughter of three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, make history as the first woman chief minister of Punjab.

Maryam, 50, plays an influential role in her father’s PML-N and has been presented by him as his political heir apparent. She is senior vice president of the party.

Pakistan’s religious affairs minister calls pilgrims ambassadors of country at Hajj training workshop

Updated 25 February 2024

Pakistan’s religious affairs minister calls pilgrims ambassadors of country at Hajj training workshop

  • Aneeq Ahmed asks them to uphold the country’s prestige while carrying out spiritual journey to Saudi Arabia
  • The minister asks pilgrims to pray for the peace and stability of the country while visiting Islam’s holiest cities

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Minister for Religious Affairs Aneeq Ahmed highlighted the role of pilgrims as Pakistan’s ambassadors to Saudi Arabia while addressing a training workshop in Karachi’s Hajji Camp on Saturday, emphasizing the importance of upholding the country’s prestige.
Ahmed visited the kingdom in recent months to make Hajj preparations for his country where he met several Saudi officials to discuss the possibility of expanding facilities for pilgrims departing from the Pakistani cities of Lahore and Karachi.
He also evaluated the arrangements for the annual Islamic pilgrimage with catering and accommodation representatives and discussed with private Hajj operators how to maximize the provision of services.
“Aneeq Ahmed said that Pakistani pilgrims should increase the prestige of Pakistan during their stay in Saudi Arabia,” said a press release. “All pilgrims are ambassadors of Pakistan. Pilgrims should also pray for peace and stability in their country.”
The minister informed the participants of the workshop a cellphone app had been launched for pilgrims to make their journey more convenient. He also said pilgrims would be given free SIMs, briefcases and abayas for women by the government.
The Associated Press of Pakistan news agency reported the complimentary SIMs would offer 180 minutes of talk time for pilgrims to connect with family back home.
Hajj 2024 training workshops, educational training sessions designed by the government to educate pilgrims about the rituals and procedures of performing the pilgrimage, kicked off in Pakistan earlier this month.
Hajj, a once-in-a-lifetime religious duty for Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, is expected to run from June 14-19 this year.