Officials stated that Afghan families residing in cities without legal documents have initiated their return to their home country to avoid arrest

LANDIKOTAL/ISLAMABAD: After the deadline set for illegal Afghan immigrants residing in Pakistan, Afghan nationals have commenced their departure from the country via the Torkham border crossing, officials said on Thursday.

Border officials stated that over the past two days, more than 30 families comprising around 1,000 individuals departed Pakistan on the very first day following the announcement made by the federal interior minister. Authorities have designated a parking area for returnees in Torkham, with staff deployed to attend to them and complete their registration.

The officials also stated that Afghan families residing in various Pakistani cities without proper legal documents have initiated their return to their home country to avoid arrest and humiliation.

Baryalay Hasrat, a resident of Laghman province in Afghanistan, shared with The News that his family of nine members had been living in Nowshera for the past 20 years. He said although they possessed Afghan Citizen cards issued by the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), they were voluntarily returning to Afghanistan, as the economic and security situation in their country was better compared to Pakistan.

Hasrat urged fellow Afghans to leave Pakistan, citing difficulties in paying utility bills and the lack of stable job opportunities and businesses.

The Afghan citizens also requested financial assistance for those returning to Afghanistan, to enable them to rebuild their houses and start their livelihoods there.

Previously, Pakistan had requested all illegal immigrants to leave the country voluntarily by the 30th of October and warned of arrests and deportations after the deadline’s expiration.

On the other hand, a significant number of Afghan citizens residing in various Pakistani cities appealed for flexibility in the conditions as they said that their children were receiving education in Pakistan.

They expressed concerns that the abrupt departure would disrupt their children’s education. Particularly, they worried about girls’ education in Afghanistan, as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan had banned girls’ education.

Meanwhile, speaking for the first time on the recently announced policy of regulating all illegal aliens residing in Pakistan irrespective of their nationality, the Foreign Office clarified that Pakistan’s national policy on Afghan refugees remains unchanged.

“We continue to host 1.4 million Afghan refugees with exemplary generosity and empathy despite resource constraints, and economic challenges. As the situation in Afghanistan stabilises, we believe that it is the right time to upscale international efforts to create conditions conducive to the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees with honour and dignity,” said the spokesperson at the Foreign Office during the weekly media briefing.

She emphasised that Pakistan’s recent decision is not targeted against Afghan refugees.

“The decision of the Government of Pakistan is aimed at regulating illegal aliens residing in Pakistan, irrespective of their nationality. And Pakistan is well within the parameters of our sovereign domestic laws to act in this context,” she added.

Reacting to criticism that that Afghan and other citizens were being forcibly returned, the spokesperson said, “I would also like to state that the government’s policy envisages a phased and time-bound repatriation of all illegal foreigners residing in Pakistan. These include cases of individuals who are overstaying their visas and do not possess valid documentation. And I reiterate this is not directed against any specific nationality.”

With regards to the question about engagement with the Afghan authorities, she pointed out that 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 refugees.

“However, as I said the latest decision that pertains to illegal migrants and it does not pertain to refugees; these are two separate cases,” she said. On threats from across the Western borders, Pakistan says it has very clearly articulated its concerns about the threat of terrorism that it faces emanating from Afghanistan.

“This statement has been made by Pakistan on several occasions, including at international conferences and forums. At the same time, we believe in diplomacy and dialogue, and we will continue to engage with Afghan authorities to fight this threat and to ensure that Afghan soil is not used to foment terrorism against Pakistan,” said the FO spokesperson.

Regarding the repatriation of any foreigners who may be living here illegally, she said that laws of Pakistan will take their course.

The Government of Pakistan will undertake this exercise in a phased, deliberate and orderly manner.

“The process will proceed depending on the number of illegal immigrants in Pakistan and the arrangements for their return to their respective countries,” she added.

“For individuals who violate Pakistani immigration laws, there are punishments in place and there are ways to deal with such cases, including repatriation to their home countries. With regards to the details on the procedures and the financial aspects of it, I would advise you to contact the relevant ministry, the Ministry of Interior which is in charge of law and order and in implementing this policy,” she advised.

The spokesperson also clarified that Pakistan and Afghanistan bilateral trade and transit trade continues to take place. “What Pakistan has said is that we would not accept the misuse of existing trade facilities including transit trade facilities. Any measures taken recently or to be taken in the coming days will be in accordance with this understanding,” she clarified.

To a query on recognition of Israel, the spokesperson pointed to the foreign minister’s statement in which he made clear that Pakistan’s position and policy on the Palestine issue is clear and consistent.

“We do not believe that the time has come to pronounce on any new policy. Pakistan will continue to make decisions according to its own national interest. Pakistan’s position on the Palestine question is also very clear. A two-state solution is the essential for peace in the Middle East. We believe that the people of Palestine have a right to an independent state as per the UN resolutions, a state which is within the parameters of pre-1967 borders,” she said.

Meanwhile, Pakistan and Afghanistan on Thursday met at a high-level meeting in Tibet where Islamabad reaffirmed its commitment to further strengthen bilateral ties with Kabul.

The meeting the first since Pakistan announced that it was asking all illegal aliens and migrants to leave the country took place in Tibet at an international conference organised by China.

The bilateral meeting between caretaker Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani and his Afghan counterpart Amir Khan Muttaqi was announced by the Foreign Office before Pakistan’s new policy was announced.

“The foreign minister underscored that challenges confronting regional peace and stability be addressed in collaborative spirit through collective strategies,” said the Foreign Office without giving further details.

During the meeting in Nyingchi city of China’s autonomous Tibet region, Jalil Abbas told his Afghan counterpart that the decision regarding expulsion of illegal foreigners from Pakistan from November 1 wouldn’t be revisited since it has been taken at the highest level after thorough study of the situation and in the best interest Pakistan.

Highly placed diplomatic sources told The News Thursday evening that the interim FM made it clear that the decision is not Afghan illegal immigrants-specific but it would cater all those who are living in Pakistan without any legal authority.

The sources said that Jalil Abbas told Amir Khan Muttaqi that the Afghan nationals staying without any document, and will be leaving Pakistan before the deadline determined by the government, would be facilitated and provided honorable exit.

He said that Kabul should understand the situation that compelled it to take the complex decision.

Interim Afghan foreign minister would visit Pakistan for further discussion next week. His visit would be worked out by the two capitals through diplomatic channels, the sources said.

The Pakistan’s interim foreign minister appreciated the command of Imaarat Afghanistan Amir Mulla Haibutullah that Afghan soil would not be permitted to be used for subversive activities in Pakistan.

The sources pointed out that the issue of terrorist sanctuaries in Afghanistan was agitated by Pakistan as a central subject.

Jalil Abbas reminded the interim Afghan government that it would have to fulfil its commitment to deny any facility to terrorist groups, including outlawed TTP, to operate from Afghanistan.

Muttaqi restated his government’s stance claiming that Kabul would not allow anyone to use its soil against any country, including Pakistan.

Meanwhile, acting Defense Minister of Afghanistan Mullah Yaqub termed Pakistan’s decision, “inhumane and barbaric”. He urged Pakistani religious scholars as well as the international community to persuade Pakistan to review its decision. He also said that such a move by Pakistan would create tensions between the two countries.

The sources said that Yaqoob’s statement lacks any reason.

The BBC quoted Yaqub as urging people and religious scholars of Pakistan to help stop operation against Afghans. He also requested the Afghan investors living in Pakistan to invest their wealth in their country instead of Pakistan.

“We request all the rich Afghans who are living in Pakistan to transfer all their wealth and capital that we have invested there to Afghanistan as soon as possible and destroy their economy, which was built on your belief, and bring them back to our country. “

Meanwhile, continuing drive against foreigners living in Islamabad without any proof of residency (PoR), the law enforcement agencies have rounded up 1,126 Afghan nationals under 14-Foriegn Act, police said.

Counter Terrorism Department (CTD), police and paramilitary forces conducted joint raids at different locations, including Afghan Basti, and checked their documents regarding their legal residency in Pakistan.

During the scrutiny of the documents, the law enforcing agencies released 503 Afghan nationals having PoR with them, while the remaining 623 Afghans were shifted to jail for illegally living in Islamabad.

The administration, following the Deportation Implementation Plan (DIP), the jailed aliens would be sent to their native countries.

PPI adds: The Ministry of Commerce has banned the export of 212 items to Afghanistan under the Afghan Transit Trade Agreement (ATTA) it emerged.

According to SRO Number 17 types of clothes, all types of vehicle tires, tea leaves, cosmetics and dozens of toiletries have been banned.

Similarly nuts, dry and fresh fruits, home appliances, including fridges, refrigerators, air conditioners, juicer and mixer blenders, have also been banned from being taken to Afghanistan

The move comes a day after Pakistan imposed a 10 percent processing fee on several items imported under the ATTA.

According to an official notification, the items affected include confectioneries, chocolates, footwear, various machinery, blankets, home textiles and garments. Pakistan has formulated a new strategy to curb financial losses to the exchequer from the Afghan transit trade.

 

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