Pakistan has decided to send back all the illegal Afghan refugees in a major policy decision, which is seen in the context of ongoing tensions between the two countries.
Official sources said that the caretaker federal cabinet, through a circulation summary, approved the decision to repatriate as many as 1.1 million Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan illegally.
However, there was no official confirmation yet from the interim government. Caretaker Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti has yet to respond when approached for his comment.
The sources added that as many as 400,000 Afghans entered Pakistan illegally since the return of the Afghan Taliban to Afghanistan in August 2021, adding that there have been another 700,000 Afghans identified who have been living in the country illegally.
The cabinet gave authorities the go-ahead to make arrangements for sending all these Afghans back to their homeland.
Read more: Afghan refugee crisis
Sources said these 1.1 million Afghan refugees neither possess any visa nor any valid documents allowing them to stay in the country. They also claimed that most of these illegal refugees were involved in anti-state and criminal activities, therefore, they would be sent back at the earliest.
Sources further said the Afghan Taliban government was also informed about Pakistan’s decision.
Islamabad has hosted millions of refugees for decades and at one point five million Afghan refugees were residing in Pakistan. Some estimates suggested that there were still close to four million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan. However, the count of individuals possessing valid refugee cards, as per official records, is considerably lower.
The crackdown against the illegal Afghan refugees came against the backdrop of simmering tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan on the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Some observers believe that Pakistan’s stepped-up campaign against illegal Afghan refugees may be linked to the Afghan Taliban’s reluctance to launch a crackdown against the TTP.
Pakistan is frustrated that despite repeated demands the Afghan Taliban are reluctant to take action against the TTP. Last week, a Pakistani delegation led by special envoy on Afghanistan Ambassador Asif Durrani visited Kabul to press upon the Taliban government to take action against the TTP.
It was said that the Afghan Taliban promised to take some tangible steps to neutralise the TTP threat. Officials in Pakistan, however, are sceptical as the Afghan Taliban previously also made similar commitments.
The move by Pakistan to evict illegal Afghan refugees is likely to trigger a response from the Afghan Taliban government and importantly from the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which is against the policy of forced repatriation of refugees.