Officials in Pakistan have defended charging fees on Afghan nationals leaving the country or waiting for Western-sponsored resettlements, saying the decision complies with local immigration laws.
The targeted community comprises tens of thousands of people who worked for the U.S.-led NATO military mission in Afghanistan and fled the country fearing reprisals after the then-insurgent Taliban seized power in August 2021.
A Pakistani immigration official confirmed Friday that each Afghan asylum-seeker waiting to depart to a third country would be charged more than $800 for overstaying their visas or not possessing documents to stay legally.
“The government is doing a big favor to them. Otherwise, they would have to pay such amount every week in penalties,” the official told VOA anonymously because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
U.S. officials have reported that about 25,000 Afghans could be eligible for relocation to the United States under a special immigration program. Britain has announced it would resettle more than 20,000 people from Afghanistan in the coming years.
Western embassies in Islamabad offering resettlement plans have reportedly decried the imposition of exit fees as an unprecedented move and raised it with Pakistani authorities through relevant United Nations agencies.
Thursday, a Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesperson rejected “inaccurate” media claims questioning the legality of the financial penalty or suggesting it is Afghan-specific.
“The fact is that under Pakistani laws, like the immigration laws in several countries, including the United Kingdom, there are fines and punishments for individuals who overstay their visas or are found to be in violation of immigration laws,” Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said at her weekly news conference in Islamabad.
“So, any fines that Pakistan has imposed or will impose will be in conformity with our laws,” she said.
The imposition of exit fees comes amid mass deportations of foreigners, including an estimated 1.7 million Afghans illegally residing in Pakistan or overstaying their visas.
The crackdown has forced nearly 360,000 Afghans to return to their country of origin since mid-September, according to official data released Friday. Pakistani authorities have said those waiting for resettlement in the U.S. and other countries will not be deported to Afghanistan.
Pakistan has also repeatedly clarified that the 1.4 million legal Afghan refugees it hosts and more than 800,000 Afghan migrants registered by the Pakistani government in collaboration with the former Afghan government and the International Organization for Migration are not the subjects of the deportation plans.
The United Nations and partner agencies have repeatedly urged Islamabad to suspend its deportation plans, citing the onset of a harsh winter and the “worsening” Afghan humanitarian crisis.
Philippa Candler, representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, in Pakistan, said Tuesday that “mass arrivals are adding to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, where winter temperatures are already dipping to -4°C (24.8° F) in some locations.
“Many Afghan returnees are vulnerable, including women and children, who could lose their lives in a harsh winter if left without adequate shelter,” Candler said.