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Crackdown on Afghans in Pakistan sparks concern, strains relations

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KABUL – A crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan has raised alarms within the community, causing significant disruptions in their lives. Pakistani government has begun a mass deportation of illegal Afghan refugees living in Afghanistan and is planning to extradite around 1.1 million Afghans.

According to the latest data from the United Nations, there are approximately 1.3 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan, with an additional 880,000 holding legal status to reside in the country. Authorities have stated that the recent crackdown specifically targets individuals lacking legal status, citing rising crime rates and insufficient immigration regulation, which are placing strains on resources.

Official police statistics reveal a significant increase in arrests, particularly in Karachi, where at least 700 Afghans have been apprehended since early September, marking a tenfold increase compared to August. Similar detentions have occurred in other cities as well. Afghans claim that these arrests have been indiscriminate, with allegations of police extortion and disregard for valid documentation. This crackdown comes amid a surge in anti-Afghan sentiment, exacerbated by economic challenges in Pakistani households and escalating tensions between Islamabad and the new Taliban-led government in Kabul, according to Dawn.

Since the Taliban assumed power in Kabul in August 2021, an estimated 600,000 Afghans have sought refuge in Pakistan. Legal experts have pointed out that the police operation has been complicated by the expiration of registration cards for many documented Afghans at the end of June, even though their legal status remains valid until government renewal decisions are made.

Moniza Kakar, a lawyer, has expressed her limitations in assisting undocumented Afghans and highlighted that those deported recently include not only the sick and impoverished but also human rights activists and female students. Karachi police reported over 1,800 deportations of Afghans last year and have already arrested nearly 1,700 in 2023, as reported by Dawn.

However, Kakar, along with several other lawyers providing pro bono legal aid to Afghans, has emphasized that the vast majority of those detained in this operation possess proper documentation, in contrast to previous crackdowns where only about a quarter of detainees held valid papers.

The Afghan consul general, Syed Abdul Jabbar, has expressed regret that Afghans in Pakistan are bearing the brunt of disputes between Kabul and Islamabad. The situation remains tense, leaving many Afghan families in anguish and uncertainty about the fate of their loved ones in Pakistan.

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