Half a million Afghans deported from Pakistan following Islamabad’s order, says IOM

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

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported on Monday that more than 500,000 Afghans have left Pakistan in the four months following Islamabad’s directive for undocumented migrants to depart or face arrest.

The UN migration agency’s latest figures indicate that 500,200 Afghans returned to Afghanistan between Sept. 15, 2023, and Jan. 13, 2024. Many hurried to the border ahead of a Nov. 1 exit deadline set by Islamabad for the estimated 1.7 million Afghans residing illegally in Pakistan. During this period, Pakistani police established dozens of holding centers.

“Following the initial surge around Nov. 1, the number of individuals crossing the official border points has consistently decreased but remains above the levels prior to Sept. 15,” an IOM statement noted.

Pakistan justified the crackdown, citing security concerns in regions bordering Afghanistan and economic strains. However, the UN’s Afghan mission warned in a report on Monday that “some Afghans forced to return may face risks of persecution, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, or ill-treatment.”

The busiest border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan remains closed for the tenth consecutive day amid a dispute over documentation requirements for commercial drivers. The disagreement revolves around visa and passport requirements, documents many Afghans lack, as Pakistan tightens cross-border controls.

Tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan have escalated recently, with Islamabad accusing the Taliban administration of harboring militants conducting attacks in Pakistan. Taliban has consistently denied these accusations.

Some Afghans affected by Islamabad’s eviction policy are entering Afghanistan for the first time, having spent their entire lives in Pakistan. Upon arrival, these migrants have received limited assistance from the government and NGOs in a nation grappling with a severe humanitarian crisis.