This article is supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives
November 20, 2023
By Adnan Bitani
DERA ISMAIL KHAN
Five kilometers north of the city of D. I. Khan lies a sprawl of mud homes built for and lived in by thousands of Afghan refugees. In spite of multiple appeals by international rights bodies, Pakistan’s caretaker government has remained relentless in its mission to expel all illegal migrants from its domain. Those yet to be rooted out and driven across the border back to an Afghanistan under Taliban rule are arrested by deep fear and anxiety, while arbitrary arrests by police personnel as an extortion tactic has forced them to leave their jobs and remain confined in their homes to avoid this harassment.
Sher Umar Khan sells drinks in the markets of D. I. Khan. He relates that every time the men from the camp head into the city to work, they are harangued by the police. Fearing certain arrest, he no longer dares to step outside the bounds of the refugee settlement.
“I have been living in this camp for the past 40 years, which went by in peace. But ever since [the government] decided to kick Afghans out, it has been very difficult to last this month,” he says. “Whenever we leave the camp for work, the police stop us. Our cards are expired, and [Pakistan] is not giving us new ones, so the police arrest and detain us. We much prefer being sent back with dignity, these daily arrests and raids are unbearable.”
He also tells Voicepk.net that his son worked as a laborer in Punjab, but he had to call him back given the situation.
“Any time he steps out, the police pick him up and then hassle him for a bribe because our cards are expired. They keep them behind bars for a whole week,” he complains. “We are struggling and we do not know what to do. No one cares about our woes.”
According to official data, around 3,000 registered Afghan families reside in this settlement, for which a school and hospital had also been established with the aid of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other donor countries. Most of the residents arrived here during the Soviet-Afghan War, which was fought from 1979 to 1989.
Lal Mohammad Khan was born and raised in this camp. He too was issued a Proof of Registration (PoR) card which expired in June this year and which has yet to be renewed. Khan is young and the sole provider of his family. But now holed in his home out of fear of being arrested, he and his children have to suffer hunger and destitution.
“We are usually never admitted in schools, and in the rare case that we have an opportunity to go to schools specifically for Afghan citizens, everything is substandard,” he explains. “I took my younger brother to a school for admission and they turned us down saying we have Afghan citizen cards, and that admissions are only allowed for Pakistani nationals. I asked them, ‘where do I even go? Where do we study?’”
Afghan refugees claim that their PoR cards expired in June, however Commissioner for Afghan Refugees Adeel Shafie contends that they are valid till December 2023, and that the police have clear instructions not to take any action against registered Afghan migrants. Shafie states that the current phase of deportations is targeting undocumented refugees and migrants.
“The police and other department personnel are unnecessarily disturbing those migrants who have cards, who have valid IDs, by telling them that their cards are expired. I want to point out that at this time, all Afghan refugees currently residing in Pakistan have cards that expired on June 30, 2023. Since then, the government has yet to issue directives on whether we are to renew them or issue new cards,” he says, appealing to law enforcement and other relevant agencies to refrain from harassing card-holder Afghan nationals.
In a press conference on November 10, the caretaker Government of Balochistan unveiled plans to deport documented migrants after completing the forced repatriation of undocumented aliens in line with the “state’s decision”.
Pakistan has accelerated its forced repatriation program, through which an estimated 300,000 families have either fled or been expelled by Pakistani authorities back to Afghanistan. Local political parties and civil society, as well as international bodies such as the UN, rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and various foreign states have urged Pakistan to withdraw its decision regarding the expulsion of Afghans. However, Pakistan continues to maintain its stance that the policy is for all illegal aliens, and is not targeted action against Afghanistan.