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Kabul Urges Islamabad Against Mass Expulsion

  • Ayaz Gul

An Afghan refugee girl outside her home in slums of Islamabad, Pakistan, May 16, 2012.

An Afghan refugee girl outside her home in slums of Islamabad, Pakistan, May 16, 2012.

ISLAMABAD -- Afghanistan is urging authorities in neighboring Pakistan to abandon plans to expel tens of thousands of unregistered Afghan migrants from the country.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) estimates there are currently 1.7 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan, but local officials say tens of thousands of others are residing in the country illegally.

The government of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan, says around 400,000 unregistered Afghans reside in the provincial capital, Peshawar, alone.

Last month, the provincial government ordered all unregistered migrants to pack up and go back to Afghanistan by May 25, blaming them for the worsening security situation in the city, where Taliban militants have carried out frequent attacks.

Authorities have vowed to launch a police crackdown after the deadline to roundup the illegal immigrants and hand them over to Afghan authorities on the border.

Afghanistan's ambassador to Islamabad, Omar Daudzai, says the Kabul has serious concerns about the decision and wants Pakistani officials to cancel the plan.

"They should review the deadline, and we should hold bilateral talks and come up with a joint plan for a dignified, voluntary and orderly return of the Afghan refugees," he said.

Forced repatriation, he added, creates room for police to harass Afghan refugees irrespective of legal status.

"We want our Afghan refugees to come back to our country, but not on the basis of expulsion," he said. "Whether they are registered or not registered, for [the Afghan government] they are the same, and we have to deal with them in the same way."

Afghanistan's economic, education and health conditions, although improved, aren't sufficient to absorb the large number of returning refugees a mass expulsion would generate.

"We from the Afghan side should do more to provide them with shelter when they return, or at least allocate them a piece of land where they can build shelter for themselves," he said.

Daudzai said a high-level Afghan delegation led by the minister for returning refugees is expected to arrive in Islamabad to discuss the issue with Pakistani officials.

UNHCR officials requesting anonymity said Pakistan like any other country has the right to control who enters their country, or whether they are allowed to stay.

The United Nations will be concerned, they said, only if those sent back are registered Afghan refugees to whom the deadline does not pertain.