Pakistan's Baluchistan province aims to deport 10,000 Afghans a day

New rules that came into effect this month require all Afghans to show a valid passport and visa to enter Pakistan

Crowds of traders and residents protesting against Pakistan's new visa and passport policy, in Chaman, near the Afghan border. EPA
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The government of Baluchistan province in Pakistan has set targets for police to arrest and deport hundreds of thousands of Afghans who it says are in the country illegally, officials told Reuters on Thursday.

The measure is part of a nationwide crackdown following a sharp decline in the expulsion of Afghans living in Pakistan without legal permission.

Near the Chaman border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan, local residents have been staging protests against new travel visa requirements aimed at reducing illegal immigration, disrupting traffic in the area.

Some of those targeted for deportation had apparently gone to remote areas of Pakistan to avoid arrest, authorities said.

“Instructions have gone to police to arrest Afghans living in Pakistan illegally,” said Jan Achakzai, spokesperson for the provincial government. He said authorities have been asked to deport 10,000 Afghans a day.

Mr Achakzai spoke days after authorities at the two key border crossings, Torkham in the north-west and Chaman in the south-west, acknowledged that there had been a sudden decrease in the number of Afghans sent back to Afghanistan after being arrested on charges of living in Pakistan illegally.

An estimated 1.7 million Afghans were living in Pakistan in October when authorities announced the crackdown, saying that anyone without proper documents had to go back to their countries by the end of the month or be arrested.

Since then, more than 400,000 Afghans have returned to their home country.

Pakistani officials say they are deporting only foreigners, including Afghans, who are in the country illegally, and an estimated 1.4 million Afghans registered as refugees should not worry as they are not the target of the anti-migrant drive. Police in Pakistan have been going door-to-door to check migrants’ documentation.

Pakistan has been hosting Afghans since the 1980s, when millions fled south and east to the neighbouring Islamic nation during the Soviet occupation of their country. The numbers spiked after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021.

As part of its crackdown, Pakistan stopped recognising special permits which allowed hundreds of thousands of people in Chaman to cross between the two countries. The new visa requirement angered residents who have been rallying near the border.

The protesters want Pakistan to let them continue using the special permits for business purposes and to meet relatives living in the Afghan border city of Spin Boldak.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban-led administration says it is providing shelter and food to returnees. According to the private Tolo News channel, returning Afghan refugees have complained of mistreatment by Pakistani soldiers.

The alleged mistreatment of migrants by Pakistani authorities has been condemned by human rights organisations.

On Tuesday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said Pakistani authorities have committed widespread abuses against Afghans living in the country to compel their return home.

“Pakistani officials have created a coercive environment for Afghans to force them to return to life-threatening conditions in Afghanistan,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should immediately end the abuses and give Afghans facing expulsion the opportunity to seek protection in Pakistan.”

Pakistani authorities have denied such allegations, saying anyone found guilty of mistreating Afghan immigrants lacking permanent legal status would be punished.

Mr Achakzai said migrants who are in the country illegally are held at deportation centres in a dignified manner before being transported to border crossings so they can go back home.

Updated: November 30, 2023, 12:54 PM