The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, voiced “serious concern” on Wednesday regarding Pakistan’s plans to round up and expel undocumented foreigners, particularly from neighboring Afghanistan.
The agency is urging Pakistan to halt the deportation process, emphasizing the dire humanitarian consequences as winter sets in.
Babar Baloch, the UNHCR Regional Spokesman, informed Reuters that the agency is deeply troubled by the mass deportations, especially as the harsh winter weather intensifies in Afghanistan.
The situation leaves thousands of refugees with no shelter and exacerbates an already severe humanitarian crisis.
“UNHCR is calling upon the government of Pakistan to halt these mass numbers of returns during this harsh season of winter because the cold in Afghanistan is really deadly, and it can take lives,” said Baloch. “We’re talking about desperate women, children, and men being on the move, leaving Pakistan in droves.”
According to him, since this order was announced, they have seen nearly 400,000 Afghans that have returned back to Afghanistan, “and many of them have just left in fear, in a rush, in a hurry, and many of them even don’t know where they are going inside Afghanistan because they haven’t been there in a long time.”
Last month, Islamabad declared its intention to expel over 1.7 million undocumented refugees, predominantly Afghans, amid tensions with Taliban government over allegations of harboring anti-Pakistan militants. Since October 1, over 370,000 Afghans have fled Pakistan.
“Also, what we have seen since then is that the number of arrests, detentions, and mistreatment has also exponentially gone up. This has been on the rise,” added Baloch.
While Pakistan asserts that documented refugees are exempt from deportation, Baloch highlighted that even those with the proper documents are being targeted.
Pakistan contends that harassment of documented refugees is rare and that it is taking action against perpetrators. However, a search operation in various cities continues to verify the status of refugees, many of whom have resided in the country for decades.