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Pakistan Sets Up Deportation Centers to Hold Illegal Migrants

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Pakistan Sets Up Deportation Centers to Hold Illegal Migrants

Pakistan’s government warned that action will be taken against Pakistanis who are found to be sheltering unauthorized migrants in the country.

Pakistan Sets Up Deportation Centers to Hold Illegal Migrants

Local residents and Afghan nationals chant slogan during a protest rally in the southwestern border town of Chaman, Pakistan, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023.

Credit: AP Photo/Jafar Khan

Pakistan is setting up deportation centers for migrants in the country illegally, including an estimated 1.7 million Afghans, officials said Thursday. Anyone found staying in the country without authorization from next Wednesday will be arrested and sent to one of the centers.

The move is the latest development in a Pakistani government crackdown to expel foreigners without registration or documents.

Jan Achakzai, a spokesman for the government in southwestern Pakistan’s Balochistan province, said three deportation centers were being set up there. One will be in Quetta, the provincial capital.

Azam Khan, the caretaker chief minister for northwest Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said the region also would have three deportation centers. More than 60,000 Afghans have returned home since the crackdown was announced, he said.

Migrants who are living in the country illegally should leave before a Tuesday deadline to avoid arrest, he said.

Pakistan’s caretaker interior minister, Sarfraz Bugti, says the deadline will not be extended.

Bugti said during a news conference Thursday that no migrants living in Pakistan without authorization would be mistreated after their arrests. “They will not be manhandled,” he said, adding that they would get food and medical care until their deportations.

They are allowed to take a maximum of 50,000 Pakistani rupees ($180) out of the country, he said.

The minister warned Pakistanis that action would be taken against them if they are found to be sheltering migrants who are in the country illegally after November 1.

The government has information about the areas where these migrants are hiding, Bugti said. Deporting them is a challenge for the state, but “nothing is impossible to achieve it,” he added.

The country hosts millions of Afghans who fled their country during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation. The numbers swelled after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021.

Pakistan says the 1.4 million Afghans who are registered as refugees need not worry. It denies targeting Afghans and says the focus is on people who are in the country illegally, regardless of their nationality.

In the southwest Pakistani border town of Chaman, tens of thousands of people protested the crackdown and new plans requiring the town’s residents to obtain a visa to cross the border into Afghanistan. They previously had special permits. The protesters included Afghans.

“We have relatives in Afghanistan. We also do business there; we have our shops there,” Allah Noor Achakzai, a 50-year-old Pakistani, said

He said Afghans crossed the border into Pakistan every day and returned home before the crossing closed, and that locals from both countries have gone back and forth on a daily basis for decades.

The Taliban have set up a commission on the orders of their supreme leader to deal with repatriated Afghans. The commission will accommodate them in temporary camps and provide them with health care and other services, according to senior Taliban officials.

“We assure them that they will return to their country without any worries and adopt a dignified life,” Taliban chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Last week, a group of former U.S. diplomats and representatives of resettlement organizations urged Pakistan not to deport Afghans awaiting U.S. visas under a program that relocates at-risk refugees fleeing Taliban rule.

The U.N. issued a similar appeal, saying the crackdown could lead to human rights violations, including the separation of families.