In the past month, over 165,000 Afghan nationals have fled Pakistan following the government’s order for illegal immigrants to depart or face potential arrest and deportation, according to officials on Thursday.
The majority of these individuals rushed to the border in the days leading up to the November 1 deadline, with police establishing numerous “holding centers” to detain those apprehended.
On the Afghan side of the border, authorities are grappling with the sheer scale of the exodus, as they endeavor to process those returning—some of whom are setting foot in Afghanistan for the first time in their lives. Khalil Haqqani, the refugees minister in the Taliban government, emphasized the need for more time from Pakistani authorities, stating that people must be allowed to return with dignity and should not be subjected to unnecessary hardships, which could create more enmity.
Temporary processing centers, established several kilometers from border crossings, were set up by Taliban authorities, including camps for families without a place to go. This became necessary after a bottleneck situation left thousands of people stranded at the border.
Concurrently, Pakistani authorities have detained hundreds of Afghan individuals, pledging to maintain their immigration crackdown and encouraging undocumented Afghans to voluntarily depart.
The situation at the Torkham border crossing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was particularly challenging, as officials worked through the night to clear a queue of 28,000 people that extended for seven kilometers. The provincial home department reported that over 129,000 Afghans had fled from KP, while 38,100 had crossed through Chaman in Balochistan.
Over the past few decades, millions of Afghans have sought refuge in Pakistan, escaping a series of violent conflicts, with approximately 600,000 arriving after the Taliban took control in August 2021. Pakistan has justified the deportations as a measure to protect its welfare and security due to an increase in attacks that the government attributes to militants operating from Afghanistan.
The campaign against illegal immigrants is set to continue, with numerous detentions, including over 100 in Karachi and 425 in Quetta. At the Torkham border crossing, more than 24,000 Afghans crossed into Afghanistan on a single day.
Deputy Commissioner Khyber Tribal District Abdul Nasir Khan highlighted the effort made to facilitate the clearance process, including additional arrangements and late-night work at a camp near the crossing. Normally, this border, located at the northwestern end of the Khyber Pass, is closed by sundown. Since the Pakistan government issued its directive, approximately 128,000 Afghans have left through this border crossing.