Britain airlifted 132 Afghans from Pakistan on Thursday for their resettlement in the United Kingdom, as Islamabad asked the United States and some European countries to share details of the migrants who were eligible for repatriation to their respective countries.
Pakistan is finalising plans to launch a stern crackdown on those illegally living in the country after a deadline for their voluntary return will expire in the middle of next week. The government has assured that the documented Afghan refugees would not be touched in the crackdown.
Authorities estimate that around 1.7 million Afghans were in Pakistan illegally, including hundreds of thousands of those who crossed over since the Taliban seized power in Kabul in August 2021 after the US-led western forces pulled out of the war-torn country.
After the drawdown, thousands of Afghans – who had collaborated with the western forces or their contractors during the two decades of war against the Taliban fighters – were also relocated, mainly to Pakistan, for their resettlement in other countries to save them from the Taliban reprisal.
Up till now, only the UK and Canada had provided the lists of Afghans, while other countries had yet to share their details, a senior government official told The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity on Thursday.
The UK even started the repatriation flights on Thursday, with the first one carrying 132 “special category Afghan refugees”, including women and children, to Stansted airport in London. The repatriation process was monitored by British High Commission (BHC) staff.
According to sources, more special flights would be operated to transfer around 2,500 to 3,000 Afghan refugees to Britain. The sources also said that a total of 12 flights would be operated for this operation, which might continue till mid or end of December.
The repatriation of the special category Afghan refugees was discussed earlier this week in a meeting between a BHC delegation, led by its Political Consul Zoe Ware and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) team led by Director Security Air Commodore (retd) Shahid Qadir.
Pakistan has told all illegal aliens to leave the country by October 31. And as the deadline approached, the US and other Western countries are worried that the policy might affect those Afghan nationals who were eligible for asylum to their countries.
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The US and certain European countries have also approached Islamabad with a request not to deport those who worked for them during the Afghan military campaign. Official sources said Pakistan assured that all Afghans eligible for asylum would be spared but asked them to provide a list of those refugees.
On Thursday US Ambassador Donald Blome met with Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar and discussed with him a broad range of critical bilateral issues, such as the upcoming national elections and the regional matters, a US Embassy statement said.
According to the statement, the safe and efficient processing of Afghan citizens eligible for resettlement to the US was also discussed. It is believed that Washington seeks assurance that all those Afghans eligible for asylum to the US would not face any crackdown.
At a weekly news briefing, Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch defended Pakistan’s policy of evicting all foreigners living in the country illegally. “Pakistan has taken this decision … based on our own considerations and in line with our national laws,” she explained.
“These laws prescribe sanction and punishment of individuals illegally present in Pakistan and that includes deportation of such individuals. That is Pakistani law and the decision to implement these laws has been taken to ensure the safety and security of Pakistan and for Pakistan’s economic strength.”
The spokesperson stressed that the repatriation plan would come into effect on the 1st of November, “with no extensions”. She confirmed that the Afghan authorities had been informed about the return of illegal Afghans to their homeland.
“We have explained to them that this policy is not specific to Afghanistan; it pertains to all illegal foreigners irrespective of their nationality. We have also explained to them that this policy does not affect individuals who are here legally or hold confirmed status as refugees,” she said.
Baloch stated that Pakistan remained in contact with “friendly countries” who had offered to take certain Afghans. “The requests for such cases are received by the Ministry of Interior which clears these cases on visas by receiving countries. We hope that the receiving countries expedite the process of issuance of these visas,” she maintained.