KABUL: Hundreds of thousands of Afghans face the threat of deportation back to their war-torn country from Pakistan once a deadline expires today, but Kabul is crying foul over the move.
Pakistan is home to 1.7 million refugees and hundreds of thousands more unregistered migrants from its neighbour, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). But Islamabad says it cannot be expected to tolerate illegal migrants, and 400,000 undocumented Afghans in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the bulk of the Afghan community live, face the imminent prospect of removal.
The UNHCR describes the situation of Afghans in Pakistan as the “largest and most protracted refugee crisis in the world” and warned that the question of how to deal with it was becoming “increasingly politicised”. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said law enforcement agencies had been told to compile lists of illegal Afghans and once the June 30 deadline passed, orders would be issued for their arrest, appearance in court and subsequent deportation to Afghanistan. “No country allows illegal immigrants, how it is possible to legalise something which is illegal?” Hussain said. “We have been accommodating Afghan immigrants for 32 years. The provincial government cannot take their burden any more. They should go back to their country.”
But Afghans are nervous about welcoming home so many jobless, impoverished people to a country where returnees have in the past struggled to find work and roofs over their heads. The government in Kabul denied the expulsions would take place. Afghan refugee ministry spokesman Islamuddin Jurat conceded there was a “small problem” in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but said the two sides had agreed to solve the issue and give the Afghans “some legal status to stay there”.
The Afghan-Pakistani border is notoriously porous and even if the deportations were to go into effect there would be little to stop returnees coming back to Pakistan.
Pakistan, where the economy is also depressed, says it cannot be expected to tolerate illegal migrants.
Hussain claimed that illegal Afghans were involved in crime, although experts have dismissed such accusations as an excuse to rid the country of the immigrants. At the heart of the problem is deep distrust between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Each country blames the other for violence, with both sides accusing the other of sheltering Taliban insurgents on either side of the border. afp