TORKHAM, Pakistan: Hundreds of Afghan families began arriving at one of Pakistan’s busiest border crossings with Afghanistan in the northwest on Tuesday, as the government’s deadline for illegal immigrants to voluntarily return to their home country nears its end.
Pakistan has announced that it will start deporting all illegal immigrants after November 1, putting more than 1.7 million undocumented Afghan nationals at risk of expulsion.
According to immigration officials at the Torkham border, about 70,000 Afghans, not counting children, have already returned to their homeland since the government set the deportation deadline on October 3.
The Torkham border remained busy throughout the day, with trucks unloading the belongings of Afghan refugees, which were then transferred to other vehicles that could enter the neighboring country.
Large numbers of men, women, children, and elderly people were also present in the area, waiting for their turns to cross into Afghanistan.
“I’m going to Afghanistan,” said Pacha Khan, an Afghan refugee born and raised in Pakistan’s Dir district. “I’m leaving behind many friends.”
He said people like him were made to face a difficult choice.
“We can neither stay here [in Pakistan] nor do we want to go back,” he continued. “We are going because the government [of Pakistan] has ordered us, and we can’t defy it.”
Asked about people’s reactions when he left his settlement in Pakistan, Khan replied, “Everyone was sad and crying. It seemed like the entire village was engulfed in sadness.”
He added that he had never been to Afghanistan in his life.
“I’m going there now, but I don’t know what will happen to me. It’s a place many of us have never even seen.”
Rooh Ullah Ahmadzai, another Afghan immigrant born in Pakistan, said he was leaving his heart behind.
“What will we do [in Afghanistan]?” he wondered. “I was driving a rickshaw here, and Allah was helping me earn a living.”
He said he would see how things unfold in Afghanistan.
“Allah has promised to provide for us,” he added. “We will see how that turns out.”