December 31, 2023
By Laiba Hussan
In the two months since the interim Government of Pakistan initiated the process of expelling illegal immigrants, an estimated 450,000 Afghan nationals have either voluntarily left Pakistan or have been forcibly repatriated via the Torkham crossing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or the Chaman crossing in Balochistan.
The caretaker regime has clarified that the ongoing deportation drive is targeting undocumented migrants while those residing in Pakistan legally are safe, in spite of claims to the contrary from activists and refugees themselves. Moreover, the government has instituted a visa regime for cross-border travelers, a move which has affected trade, divided families and restricted access to healthcare for many Afghans.
Hailing from Khost in Afghanistan, Sher Afzal Khan had to leap through many hurdles in order to legally enter Pakistan to admit his sick older brother to the Khyber Teaching Hospital in Peshawar.
“There are no medicines nor doctors in Afghanistan,” he told Voicepk.net. His brother underwent surgery in Afghanistan but it yielded no results, because of which they had to make the journey to Pakistan. “The operation was successful. The doctors that are still in Afghanistan are not as good in providing treatment as the doctors in Peshawar.”
He asserted that as neighbours, Pakistan and Afghanistan are inherently interdependent.
“We want the two to have good relations with each other,” he opined.
Arghwan Bibi, who is accompanying her sister for her treatment and checkups in Peshawar, said that the restrictions at the border are especially stressful for pregnant travelers.
“My sister is eight months pregnant. The doctors told her she is having twins and the eighth month is especially delicate. I will stay with her throughout the delivery so I can take care of her,” she said.
As they do not have any Proof of Registration (PoR) cards, Arghwan is worried that she and her family may be forced back to Afghanistan. It is because of this fear that her brother-in-law does not even visit his wife at the hospital, and therefore it is up to Arghwan to stay by the expectant mother’s side.
“Poor people like us are facing a lot of difficulties in getting treatment because of the Government of Pakistan’s decision. Once my sister’s children are born, we will return to our country.”
Public Relations Office (PRO) for the Khyber Teaching Hospital, Sajjad Khan, pointed out that there has been a significant drop in the number of Afghan patients following Pakistan’s decision to repatriate unregistered migrants.
“Prior to November 1, our OPDs and Emergency saw roughly 1,000 patients daily, out of which 300 were Afghan. Nowadays, barely 50 to 100 Afghan patients come in on a daily basis,” he said.
A large number of Afghan nationals traveling to Pakistan for healthcare received treatment at public hospitals in Pakistan, however the enforcement of a visa-only policy has deprived ill Afghans of life-saving treatment just across the border.