A mass exodus of Afghans from Pakistan began on Wednesday after they were threatened with detention or deportation.
Last month, the Pakistani government gave 1.7 million Afghans, all of whom are believed to be living in the country illegally, until November 1 to leave the country or be forcibly removed.
Thousands of people gathered at one of the country’s busiest border posts on Wednesday in an attempt to flee the country. This queue is up to 7 km long. At least 29,000 people had already crossed the border into Afghanistan the previous day.
Feroz Jamal, spokesman for the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, says an extensive operation has been launched to arrest families who are in the country illegally and refuse to leave. This province hosts the most immigrants from Afghanistan.
According to local media reports, a total of 49 detention centers have been set up that can house thousands of people.
A 14-year-old Afghan girl, who has not been identified for security reasons, said she would stay in Pakistan as long as possible, even though she is not legally in the country.
“We are not going back home because then my teaching will stop,” she told AFP.
“Our father told us that if he was arrested by Pakistani authorities, we should not even flee the country because we would have no life in Afghanistan.”
In recent years, millions of Afghan citizens have fled to Pakistan due to violent conflict in the country. Since the Taliban took back control of the country in 2021, another 600,000 citizens have fled due to the strict interpretation of Islamic law.
Pakistan says the reason it now wants the Afghans out of the country is to ensure the “well-being and safety” of its citizens after several attacks were carried out on the country. The government claims the attacks were carried out by militant groups operating from Afghanistan.
Pakistani citizens have welcomed the policy, as the presence of refugees places a heavy burden on the country’s infrastructure.
However, Human Rights Watch says Afghans awaiting resettlement to the US, Britain, Germany and Canada are now at risk of deportation after their Pakistan visas expire.
Meanwhile, the authorities in Afghanistan are scrambling to process citizens’ documentation that is coming back again. The processes are not only complicated by the scale of the exodus, but also by the fact that some of the people are entering Afghanistan for the very first time.
Samiullah Samoon, who manages immigration registration at Torkham, says the border post is in an emergency situation.
More than 130,000 people have fled Pakistan since the government announced in October that Afghans must leave the country.
A total of 21,000 people were taken through Torkham on Tuesday and another 8,000 in Chaman.
‘Enough is enough’
Police have already begun demolishing hundreds of illegal structures used by Afghans as homes in the Pakistani capital.
“Enough is enough, explain to us how to get to the border post, then we will do it. The humiliation is too much,” said Baaz Muhammad. The 35-year-old Muhammad was born in Pakistan after his parents fled Afghanistan.
In the port city of Karachi, Afghans who have lived at a refugee camp for generations said arbitrary arrests and extortion had taken place in recent weeks.
Lawyers and activists also said the scale of the situation was unprecedented, and called on the government to give Afghans more time to cope with dignity.
“The Pakistani government uses threats, abuse, and detention to force Afghan asylum seekers without legal status to return to Afghanistan or face deportation,” Human Rights Watch said.
“The situation in Afghanistan remains dangerous for many who have fled and expulsion would expose them to significant security risks, including threats to their lives and well-being.”