Pakistani authorities deport Afghan refugees fleeing Taliban

Government fears a repeat of the Soviet-Afghan war refugee crisis

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Hundreds of Afghans who have fled the Taliban are being deported from Pakistan as the country takes a hard line on immigration to deter a refugee influx.

Afghans recently reaching the Pakistani port city of Karachi said bus loads of new arrivals were being rounded up by police and deported.

Pakistan has sharply restricted cross-border movement since the Taliban ousted Ashraf Ghani's internationally-backed government in August.

Islamabad has said it is in “no condition right now to accept any more refugees” after hosting millions of Afghans since the 1979 Soviet invasion.

Police confirmed to The National that deportations were taking place and diplomats said Pakistani officials had expressed fears that any leniency would become a “pull factor” encouraging more Afghans to move over the border.

Afghanistan is gripped by a worsening economic and humanitarian crisis following the Taliban's shock victory in August, and large numbers of Afghans are expected to try to flee in the coming months.

Some have already managed to sneak across the border paying bribes or smugglers in recent weeks to avoid restrictions on entering Pakistan.

Abdullah Karimi said he reached Karachi’s Metroville neighbourhood with his parents, wife and five children after fleeing Afghanistan's Laghman province. He said those using the Chaman border into Pakistan were paying bribes to cross.

“The situation back at home is not good, there is uncertainty and nothing to do at home. People who cross the borders do it after giving bribes,” he said.

“I stayed with distant relatives at Metroville and wanted to move to a refugees' camp but here I came to know that instead of giving them refugee status, authorities are deporting Afghan nationals.”

Several refugees said Afghans had been enticed to meetings with promises of aid distribution, only to then be rounded up by the authorities.

Refugees have been picked up in the Al Asif neighbourhood on the outskirts of Karachi along its northern bypass. Syed Mustafa, principal of a school in Asif Square, said police announced they had brought rations for the newly arrived refugees. When the refugees gathered, some 20 – including a woman and four daughters – were detained and taken away.

“The police have every right to arrest those without legal documents, but since many of them are without money and basic necessities they could have been deported in a good manner,” he said.

Refugees detained in camps

Asif Khan, a long-standing and legally registered refugee, said a similar procedure was adopted for detaining immigrants at his camp.

“They were called in through the refugees’ representative and then sent to the Chaman crossing in some 8 to 10 buses. Around 800 refugees were deported from the camp last week,” he said.

Deputy Inspector General of Police Saqib Ismail confirmed that illegal Afghan immigrants were being detained and deported but declined to share further details.

Around 3.5 million Afghans have been internally displaced due to the conflict, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and around 600,000 of those fled their homes in 2021.

The former Afghan government was nearly totally reliant on foreign aid and the suspension of funding and freezing of its foreign reserves since the Taliban took over has tipped the country into a steep economic dive.

Many are anxious to escape Taliban reprisals and newly reimposed rules blocking girls from education and women from the workplace. A string of attacks by the local branch of ISIS has also heightened fears that the tense calm, which prevailed immediately after the Taliban takeover, is now disintegrating into violence.

Afghanistan's neighbours have been attempting to deter refugees by closing their borders, but international aid organisations have warned of a wave of migration unless conditions can be improved.

This month has also seen a surge of people trying to leave for Iran.

“Everyone wants to get out. It's the only thing people talk about,” said one teacher in Kabul.

Updated: October 16, 2021, 2:45 PM