afghan pakistan refugees
Afghan refugees climb a truck as they prepare to depart for Afghanistan, at a holding centre in Landi Kotal on November 1, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

Peshawar: Pakistani authorities started rounding up undocumented foreigners ahead of Wednesday’s midnight deadline for them to leave or face expulsion.

Afghans have made up the bulk of around 140,000 such immigrants to have voluntarily left so far, officials said, some of whom have lived in Pakistan for decades.

Brushing aside calls from the United Nations, rights groups and Western embassies to reconsider, Pakistan last month set the Nov. 1 deadline to begin expelling all undocumented immigrants, including hundreds of thousands of Afghans.

“A process to arrest the foreigners... for deportation has started as of Nov.1,” the interior ministry said in a statement, while adding that voluntary return would still be encouraged.

afghan pakistan refugees
Afghan refugees gather around National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) vans for biometric verifications as they prepare to depart for Afghanistan, at a holding centre in Landi Kotal on November 1, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

It said a total of 140,322 people had voluntarily left Pakistan so far under the plan. Pakistan had previously said the round-ups would start on Thursday.

Within hours of the interior ministry statement, authorities had begun rounding up undocumented foreigners and transferring them to transit centres.

In the southern port city of Karachi, home to a large number of Afghan migrants and refugees, deputy commissioner Junaid Iqbal Khan said up to 40 people without the proper documents had so far been moved to one of the transit centres.

Reuters witnesses saw police bring some people in police vehicles. Inside the centre, authorities had set up tents to shelter those rounded up. Media were not allowed access inside.

afghan pakistan refugees children
Afghan refugee children gesture as they prepare to depart for Afghanistan, at a holding centre, in Landi Kotal on November 1, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

Afghans head home

Of the voluntary returnees, around 104,000 Afghan nationals have left the country via the main Torkham border crossing in northwest Pakistan during the last two weeks.

“Some of them have been living in Pakistan for more than 30 years without any proof of registration,” said Nasir Khan, the area deputy commissioner.

An as yet undetermined number have also left by the Chaman border crossing in the southwestern province of Balochistan.

Of the more than 4 million Afghans living in Pakistan, the government estimates 1.7 million are undocumented.

afghan pakistan refugees
Afghan nationals, who according to police were undocumented, walk as they are detained and shifted to a holding centre, after Pakistan gave the last warning to undocumented migrants to leave, in Karachi, Pakistan November 1, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

Many fled Afghanistan during its decades of internal conflict since the late 1970s, while the Taliban takeover after the US withdrawal in 2021 led to another exodus.

But Pakistan has taken a hardline stance, saying Afghan nationals have been behind militant attacks, smuggling and other crimes in the South Asian nation.

Kabul has dismissed the accusations.

In the Afghan capital, the Taliban administration asked all countries hosting Afghan refugees to give them more time to prepare for repatriation.

“We call on them not to deport forcefully Afghans without preparation, rather give them enough time and countries should use tolerance,” it said in a posting on Afghans in Pakistan and elsewhere on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

It assured Afghans leaving over political concerns that they could return and live peacefully in Afghanistan.