ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti said on Sunday that the government has no choice but to repatriate illegal immigrants owing to the deteriorating law and order situation in the country, saying that Pakistan has to “put its house in order.”
The minister’s comments came as Pakistan’s Nov. 1 deadline to forcibly repatriate illegal immigrants in the country looms closer. While the government has rejected allegations it is targeting Afghan nationals, the decision however impacts mostly Afghans who make up the bulk of foreigners living in the country.
Speaking to a private news channel on Sunday night, Bugti said the government has evidence of Afghan nationals being involved in street crimes in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. The minister said over the past eight months, Afghan nationals were involved in 14 out of the 24 suicide blasts that have taken place in Pakistan.
“We have no other option but to deport or repatriate illegal immigrants who are not part of our tax net or our system,” Bugti said. “They should go back to their homes and we put our house in order.”
The minister said he was aware that Pakistan’s decision had forced a lot of poor people to pack up their belongings and head back to Afghanistan. However, he said for the government, the economic condition and life of a Pakistani citizen mattered the most.
“We have to improve Pakistan, economically we are bleeding while the law and order situation is there for us to see, whether it is organized crime or terrorism,” Bugti said.
“In both, Afghan nationals are involved.”
Pakistan’s ultimatum has been sharply criticized by local and international rights organizations. Human rights activists and the UN Refugee Agency have called on the government to review its decision and ensure repatriation is “voluntary” and carried out in a safe manner.
The UN Refugee agency has expressed fears that a large number of Afghan immigrants who fled the country after the Taliban forcibly captured Kabul in August 2021, face dangers to their lives in Afghanistan.
Last Thursday, Bugti announced Pakistan had established “holding centers” across the country to respectfully accommodate illegal immigrants with essential amenities before deporting them to their home nations.
The minister said these centers would provide people with food and medical facilities, and offered “full assurance” that women, children and elderly people would be kept respectfully at these facilities.
Bugti said foreign nationals would only be allowed to carry Rs50,000 ($180) per family while departing the country, adding that any other financial transfers could be done through banking or other official channels which were yet to be determined.