More than 165,000 Afghans have left Pakistan within a month, a reaction to the government’s request for illegal immigrants to exit or brace for arrest and deportation, officials unveiled on Thursday.
As the November 1 deadline loomed, many flocked to the border. Pakistani authorities responded by initiating several “holding centres” poised to detain apprehended Afghans. On the flip side, Afghan border officials grapple with the sudden surge, many returnees witnessing Afghanistan for the very first time.
Taliban’s Plea to Pakistan
“We are constantly communicating with the Pakistani side, seeking an extension. Returnees should be treated with respect,” expressed the Taliban government’s refugee minister, Khalil Haqqani. He emphasized that Pakistan should refrain from antagonizing more Afghans.
In response to the urgent influx, the Taliban initiated a processing centre and set up temporary camps for displaced families located kilometres from the main border crossing.
On the other hand, Pakistan persists in its detention of Afghans. Despite the heavy inflow at the Torkham border, Abdul Nasir Khan, the border district’s deputy commissioner, emphasizes that voluntary return is still an option. However, he observed a significant drop in numbers past the deadline.
By Thursday’s early hours, officials at the Torkham border in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were engrossed in managing a seven-kilometre queue, translating to 28,000 individuals. Data reveals that 129,000 exited via KP while 38,100 departed through Balochistan’s Chaman.
Decades have witnessed millions of Afghans seeking refuge in Pakistan, escaping cycles of conflict. An estimated 600,000 migrated after the Taliban’s August 2021 takeover. Pakistan attributes its strict measures to national “welfare and security”, linking a spike in attacks to militants from Afghanistan.
Concurrently, the campaign to root out illegal immigrants intensifies in Pakistan. Major cities like Karachi and Quetta have already witnessed significant detentions.
A single day, Wednesday, saw an exodus of 24,000 Afghans via the Torkham border crossing, revealed Abdul Nasir Khan, Deputy Commissioner of the Khyber Tribal District. To expedite the clearance process, authorities bolstered their measures and extended working hours at a nearby camp. Usually, this strategic border, linking Peshawar to Afghanistan’s Jalalabad, seals by sunset.
*With supplementary information sourced from Reuters and AFP.