What is Driving Pakistan’s Decision to Deport Illegal Migrants?

Detained immigrants, who fail to provide legal documents, are transported by police in a bus to shift them in a deportation center in Karachi, Pakistan, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023.

Credit: AP Photo/Fareed Khan

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Pakistan’s decision to repatriate millions of illegal migrants, mainly Afghans, has become a subject of debate and criticism. Seemingly, the decision to send them back was made after much thought and careful consideration.

The repatriation process has been carried out after extensive deliberations involving civil and military stakeholders at all levels. The goal behind this decision is to ensure the long-term stability of the country and address the challenges posed by a large number of undocumented immigrants. Pakistan wants to eliminate any policy ambiguity that may have existed in the past regarding visas and establish an appropriate and globally recognized immigration system.

As of now, significant progress has been made in repatriating Afghan immigrants voluntarily. According to recent statistics, 148,267 Afghan immigrants have already left for Afghanistan through voluntary repatriation programs. On Thursday alone, a total of 19,344 undocumented immigrants left via Torkham while an additional 294 Afghan immigrants departed from Angoor Adda in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s South Waziristan district.

Reportedly, Pakistan is engaged with several countries, including Afghanistan and the United States, regarding the resettlement of Afghans in third countries.

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Since announcing the deportation deadline several weeks ago, Pakistan has been outlining the many aspects of its decision to the international community and friendly nations, including Afghanistan’s Taliban regime. “Our consultations with Afghanistan have continued and the two foreign ministers also discussed it when they met in Tibet a fortnight ago,” Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said at a weekly news briefing.

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For decades, Pakistan has demonstrated its commitment to humanitarian efforts by hosting millions of Afghans and other refugees at risk. However, this principled act has not come without consequences. The cost for Pakistan in terms of its internal well-being has been immense.

The exploitation of illegal border crossings by Afghans without proper visas and the informal economic linkages have put immense pressure on Pakistan’s stability. This has been particularly evident since the arrival of the Afghan Taliban government. The country’s security has come under great strain as militant groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attempt to use these Afghan migrants against Pakistan.

According to recent revelations by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Inspector General of Police (IGP), Akhtar Hayat Khan, Afghan nationals have carried out up to 75 percent of attacks in Pakistan this year as suicide bombers.

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The influx of refugees has strained resources and infrastructure in Pakistan, putting a burden on public services such as healthcare, education, and housing. Additionally, the presence of militant groups among these refugee populations poses a significant threat to national security.

Some voices in Pakistani policymaking circles contend that the decision to return unlawful refugees to their home countries ought to have been made sooner. “If Pakistan had taken this decision earlier, it could have been able to prevent the security and economic issues that Afghanistan is currently posing to the country,” one security official told The Diplomat.

Furthermore, Pakistan’s recent decision to send back refugees is seen as a clear indication that the state will no longer tolerate business as usual. This means that informal means of dealing with border crossings and Afghanistan’s delays in implementing necessary reforms and actions will not be accepted by Pakistan any longer.

Pakistan has previously presented Afghanistan with a number of proposals, including the return of refugees and the implementation of a modern visa system to improve security coordination. These steps are intended to guarantee a more structured approach to handling security-related issues and to legitimize border crossings. But Islamabad has only received one response from Afghanistan, and it circles around encouraging activities that Pakistan seeks to rein in and put an end to.

For instance, as expected, the Afghan Taliban has criticized Pakistan’s repatriation move, claiming it violates human rights and will only create more enemies for Islamabad. However, it is important to note that Kabul’s position reflects Pakistan’s frustration with the current Afghan regime. Pakistan appears to have little interest in the statements made by the Afghan regime and instead seeks to establish a clear and legitimate policy to address the issue of illegal refugees. By doing so, Pakistan aims to streamline its border control measures and ensure that all crossings adhere to international standards.

The Afghan government should assist Pakistan in taking back its citizens rather than issue threats against Pakistan. To properly address these issues, it is imperative that both countries have an honest conversation and identify areas of agreement. Only by cooperating will Afghanistan and Pakistan be able to reach a win-win solution that can help maintain border security and protect human rights.

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