Cutting Through The Clutter: Expatriation Of ‘Illegal’ Afghan Immigrants – OpEd


In October 2023, Pakistan decided to expatriate all illegal immigrant on its soil. A majority of these include Afghan immigrant who have been fleeing from war, lack of opportunities and oppression in their country since 1979 when former USSR invaded Afghanistan. 

Since the announcement of Pakistan’s decision there has been a lot of hue and cry in various local, regional and global diplomatic and media circles. Pakistan has been accused of being indifferent and insensitive towards Afghan immigrants considering the plight of war torn Afghanistan where there are no opportunities for these expatriated people.

 Hence, it is prudent to dissect this issue to cut through the clutter of exponential level of disinformation being spread about it. Some facts must be put to the fore for complete understanding of Pakistan’s latest decision about expatriation of illegal Afghan immigrant.

Pakistan has been home of 3.7 million Afghan nationals and Pakistan had to accommodate these millions of homeless people where global contributions were not adequate as this refugees population was to be provided with all basic social services along with shelter and food. UN  appreciated Pakistan’s contribution over the years despite the fact that the country never signed the 1951 Convention on Refugees. 

Pakistan and UNHCR celebrated 25 years of joint efforts for the rehabilitation and support of Afghan refugees. A special report “Searching for Solutions – 25 years of UNHCR-Pakistan cooperation on Afghan Refugees” was issued on this occasion. The UN report quoted about Pakistan that “it honoured its spirit and hosted millions of Afghans who fled the wars in their homeland.” Hosting legal refugees and illegal immigrants for more than 4 decades is a commendable act of humanity & Pakistan has gracefully shouldered this burden.

Pakistan began a registration process of these refugees after 1998 and a major drive in this effort came around 2006 when Pakistan and UNHCR entered into a new agreement in Islamabad to extend the date of registration for Afghan refugees. Out of 3.7 million, only 1.3 million Afghan refugees were registered and were given Proof of Registration (PoR) cards. Around 0.88 million refugees were given one time Afghanistan Citizen Card (ACC). 

Understanding these historic dynamics is important to clear the artificial fog of uncertainty about Pakistan’s presumed policy shift towards Afghan refugees. Fact is, Pakistan’s policy towards legal Afghan refugees remain the same. They will continue to be in Pakistan along with access to all social services as any other Pakistani had. Pakistan is only deporting those 1.7 million who possess neither PoR nor ACC and living totally illegally on its soil. No country in the world allowed this to happen for this long. Deportation of aliens by host countries is a normal practice. In 2023 alone Iran, Turkey, the US & India collectively deported over 100,000 Afghan refugees and Pakistan is not an exception.

This is the reality that is absent from this uncalled for criticism on Pakistan regarding its treatment of Afghan nationals. All speculations in this regard as futile attempts to garner attention on social media or to sow the seeds of discord between two neighboring countries that have historic religious and cultural ties.

Fact is Over years, hosting a large refugee population esp with an unauthorized status has created opportunities for illegal activities & other security risks detrimental to Pakistan & its citizens. Unfortunately Afghan nationals have been a root cause for so many ills in Pakistan.

There are numerous credible intelligence reports that Afghan nationals are still joining TTP and ISKP ranks against the decree and instructions of the supreme Afghan commander Hibatullah Akhundzada in a clear display of disobedience. It has been investigated that in 2023 alone, Afghan citizens were involved in 14 out of 24 terrorist incidents in Pakistan which is 58% of role in such attacks. These alarming statistics justifies Pakistan’s decision about illegal Afghan immigrants from security perspective as well. 

It is unfortunate that more than 4 decades of generosity and goodwill of have not been preserved by the IAG & its people. The reaction from Kabul in this regard was completely unwarranted one. It gave an impression that as if Pakistan is targeting Afghan citizens on its soil. Nothing can be far from truth than this. Fact is Pakistan is neither against Afghans nor against Pushtuns but only against illegal immigrants of any nationality. This is a rightful demand of Pakistan according of international norms and the fact that decision is not targeted against Afghan refugees, rather it’s against illegal foreigners (aliens) must be suffice to dispel this impression.

Pakistan remains in contact with Afghan authorities and will continue to engage with them on all matters of bilateral interest, including the safe return of the illegal Afghan immigrants. 

Pakistan’s policy towards Afghan refugees with legal status remains unchanged and Pakistan will continue to play its role as a responsible state in this regard as it has done for so many years. All criticism on the recent decision is misplaced and carries ulterior motives contradicting historic facts and current realities. 

Basit Ali

Basit Ali  is a Research Associate in Economics Security at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). His areas of expertise are Macroeconomics, Economic Security, Environmental Economics, and International Economics.

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