QUETTA: The government in Balochistan said on Wednesday Pakistan was aiming to expel as many as one million illegal immigrants by January 2024 through border crossings in the southwestern province, which borders Afghanistan.
Islamabad last month announced it would expel over a million undocumented refugees, mostly Afghans, amid a row with Kabul over charges that it harbors anti-Pakistan militants. The government had announced at the time that eight crossing points would be used for Afghans to cross back into their home country from the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan, both of whom share a frontier with Afghanistan.
The Torkham, Kharlachi, Ghulam Khan, and Angoor Ada crossing points would be used for migrants from Islamabad, KP, Gilgit-Baltistan, and Punjab [province] and the Chaman, Barab Chah, Noor Wahab, and Badini crossing points were allocated for illegal aliens from Sindh and Balochistan provinces.
More than 340,000 illegal foreigners have voluntarily left or been deported from Pakistan since the government announced its policy against undocumented immigrants on Oct. 3.
“We are trying to repatriate one million illegal immigrants from Balochistan by the end of January and we are also contacting the governments of Sindh and Punjab to expedite this process,” Balochistan Caretaker Information Minister Jan Achakzai told reporters.
“The deportation of illegal Afghan citizens is going-on at Chaman border and we have started the second phase of our crackdown against undocumented immigrants living in Balochistan.”
He said police and other law enforcement agencies had been ordered to arrest illegal immigrants and send them to holding centers before deporting. Pakistan has said last month it had set up 49 holding centers across the country for the repatriation of illegal immigrants.
“In Balochistan, 120,000 Afghan citizens have returned to their country, of which 90 percent returned on a voluntary basis,” Achakzai said.
The spokesperson’s statements came as the UN refugee agency on Wednesday urged Pakistan to halt its deportation of undocumented Afghans during the harsh winter season, as police continued to search homes and expel Afghanis who had not already left.
“UNHCR is calling upon the government of Pakistan to halt these mass numbers of returns during this harsh season of winter because the cold in Afghanistan is really deadly and it can take lives,” the agency’s regional spokesman, Babar Baloch, told Reuters TV in an interview.
“We’re talking about desperate women, children and men being on the move, leaving Pakistan in droves,” he said.
The agency has said the Afghans’ return should be voluntary and that Pakistan should identify vulnerable individuals who need international protection.
Pakistan is home to over 4 million Afghan migrants and refugees, about 1.7 million of whom are undocumented. Many came after the Taliban retook Afghanistan in 2021, and a large number have been present since the 1979 Soviet invasion.
Pakistani police have been searching door to door in refugees settlements for those who have not left voluntarily, beginning with the port city of Karachi, where hundreds of thousands of Afghans live.
Thousands of Afghans have gone underground in Pakistan to avoid deportation, fearing for their lives if they return to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan following the hasty and chaotic withdrawal of US-led western forces in 2021.
Islamabad has thus far not entertained calls by international organizations and refugee agencies to reconsider its deportation plans.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court has admitted a petition filed by rights activists seeking to halt the deportation, which is yet to be taken up for a hearing, a court order issued on Wednesday said.
With inputs from Reuters