Afghanistan in 2023: Immigration crisis new challenge for Afghans

A group of Afghan migrants in border near Pakistan. November 2023. File Photo.

The year 2023 brought a new challenge to Afghan citizens: a migration crisis. The Pakistani government set a Nov. 1 deadline for Afghan migrants to leave the country. By year’s end, nearly 500,000 migrants were either expelled from Pakistan or returned voluntarily.

Iran continued deporting Afghan immigrants throughout the year, with the state news agency IRNA reporting that 328,000 were sent back in the first six months.

Pakistan cited ongoing attacks by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as the reason for its actions. In the last two months, Afghan border crossings saw a significant influx of returnees, with Pakistani police intensifying door-to-door checks.

Before the Nov. 1 deadline, 140,322 migrants left Pakistan, and in the first two weeks of forced deportations, 104,000 undocumented migrants were expelled or left voluntarily.

This deportation process has drawn criticism from various quarters, including the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and even Pakistani politicians. They have called for a halt to the expulsion of Afghan immigrants.

Among those affected is Afghan journalist Diwa Amrakhil from Kabul province, who sought refuge in Pakistan with his family after security threats from the Taliban. He now faces the risk of deportation.

Diwe Amarkhil, another Afghan journalist and immigrant in Pakistan, highlights the visa challenges and said that “many like me don’t have visas”.

“We face police harassment, or our visas aren’t renewed,” he said.

Iran also returned Afghan immigrants. Iranian media reported that 328,000 migrants were sent back in the first six months of the year. Ghulam Sakhi, a 17-year-old deported from Iran, recounted harsh treatment and exploitation.

“We went to Iran for work, and there they arrested us and tied our hands and feet so that we don’t run away,” he said.

Abdul Rahman, a resident of Herat, expressed frustration with Iran’s treatment of migrants. “Life in Iran is difficult. The government now mistreats and exploits immigrants,” he said.

Experts attribute the migration crisis to widespread poverty and unemployment in Afghanistan. Basir Ahmad, an associate professor, remarked, “The current Afghan government lacks the capacity to manage this crisis. We’re seeing daily poverty, unemployment, and serious problems for citizens, and the mass deportations from Iran and Pakistan have added economic pressure.”

Since the Taliban’s return to power, Iran and Pakistan have hosted the largest number of Afghan immigrants. Statistics indicate that nearly one million Afghans were displaced to Iran and 600,000 to Pakistan, many awaiting humanitarian visas from Western countries.

However, a Taliban spokesperson reported that from Oct. 1 to late December 2023, over 800,000 migrants from Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey were deported or returned voluntarily.