Afghan refugees in Pakistan face panic as deadline to leave looms

By Amjad Ali

Islamabad, Oct 7 (EFE).- Afghan refugees in Pakistan are gripped by panic as the government’s deadline for their departure from the country approaches, leading many to wind up their businesses and sell their household.

On Tuesday, the Pakistani government ordered all immigrants, including 1.73 million Afghans living illegally, to leave the country by the end of the month or face expulsion.

The announcement has left tens of thousands of Afghans, including residents of an Afghan settlement with over 300 slums or mud houses in the H-13 sector of the capital, Islamabad, in a state of panic.

“I was borne here, and we have been living here for over 40 years. So, how can we go back now,” Asmat Ullah, 40, who runs a tuck shop in the settlement, told EFE. His father had migrated from Afghanistan’s Kunduz province in 1979 when Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan.

Asmat Ullah and his family possess proof of registration cards, which are identity documents for Afghan refugees allowing them to legally remain in Pakistan. However, they fear possible expulsion in the next phase of the crackdown.

According to him, the police have already initiated crackdowns on unregistered refugees but even those who are registered or have valid travel documents have been arrested before the end-of-month deadline.

Hundreds have been detained in southern Sindh province, particularly in Karachi, known as the “mother of the poor.”

A video showing Afghan men and boys tied together with rope and being taken away by police officers in Sindh province went viral on social media.

The Taliban’s embassy in Islamabad said around 1,000 Afghans have been booked in the past two weeks only.

“Day and night operations are carried out on their residences. So far, 1,000, half of whom have immigration or travel documents, were arrested by the CTD (Counter-Terrorism Department),” the embassy said in a statement on Tuesday.

Akhtar Hussain, a resident of the Afghan settlement, said the police arrested his brother Saeed Rehman despite having legal documents to reside in Pakistan.

“If they stop you, even you show them documents, they confiscate the documents and arrest you,” Hussain told EFE.

Due to the fear of arrest, documented and undocumented refugees have restricted their movements, making it challenging to earn a livelihood for their families.

“They don’t allow us go out, we can’t go out,” Ali Muhammed, 27, told EFE.

Afghan refugees are living in fear of what may happen to them. Most settlement residents work at the vegetable market in Islamabad, where they have recently faced arrests and harassment.

“Forget the business, they can’t live at their homes, people are tensed,” said Muhammed.

Some had weddings planned for their sons or daughters in the coming months but are now either postponing them or arranging them ahead of schedule to avoid mishaps in case of deportation.

One such wedding took place well before its planned date in November. A smaller than Pashtun traditions wedding party left to bring the bride from a nearby settlement.

“I thank to God that I got my son married today, God knows what will happen to us now,” Najeeb Ullah, a resident, told EFE. “We are happy and also sad at the same time.”

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