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Pakistan sets up deportation centers for illegal migrants

October 26, 2023

Pakistan has issued a final warning to all illegal immigrants to leave the country voluntarily before a November 1 deadline. Deportation centers are already being set up to detain those who remain past the deadline.

Afghan refugees carry their packs to leave the Pakistani port city of Karachi to return to Afghanistan following the Pakistani government's decision to deport those illegally staying in the country
Afghan refugees are returning to Afghanistan following the Pakistani government's decision to deport those illegally staying in the countryImage: Sabir Mazhar/AA/picture alliance

Pakistan has finalized a plan to deport all illegal immigrants, including an estimated 1.7 million Afghans, by November 1, officials said on Thursday.

"It is a challenging task," caretaker Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti told a news conference in Islamabad, adding that Pakistan was determined to remove all illegal immigrants.

"All the illegal immigrants have been identified. The state has a complete data," said Bugti. "I want to appeal one more time that all the illegal immigrants should leave voluntarily by the deadline."

Islamabad announced the deportation of the undocumented immigrants in October.

According to Bugti, there will be no deadline extension. He also said that action would be taken against anyone involved in helping or hiding the immigrants

Deportation centers already being set up

Officials said illegal immigrants, many of whom have lived in Pakistan for years, who are willing to leave voluntarily will be helped to leave the country. But they warned anyone found in the country illegally after next Wednesday would be arrested 

According to Jan Achakzai, a spokesperson for the southwestern Baluchistan government, three deportation centers were being set up in his province. One will be in Quetta, the provincial capital.

Azam Khan, the caretaker chief minister for the northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said the region will have three deportation centers. More than 60,000 Afghans have returned home since the crackdown was announced, he added. 

Afghan refugees in Pakistan fear widespread crackdown

Who is targeted by deportation?

Pakistan hosts millions of Afghans who fled their country during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation. The numbers swelled after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021. 

Pakistan says the 1.4 million Afghans who are registered refugees need not worry. It denies targeting Afghans and says the focus is on people who are in the country illegally, regardless of their nationality.

The Pakistani government says it took the decision after Afghan nationals were found to be involved in crime, smuggling, and attacks against the government and army, including 14 of 24 suicide bombings this year.

The crackdown has been widely condemned.

Last week, a group of former US diplomats and representatives of resettlement organizations urged Pakistan not to deport Afghans awaiting US visas under a program that resettled vulnerable refugees fleeing Taliban rule.

The UN issued a similar appeal, saying the crackdown could lead to human rights violations, including the separation of families.

dh/lo (AP, Reuters)