Pakistan on Friday declared the extension of legal residence status for approximately 1.4 million Afghan refugees until the end of the year, following a four-month delay. However, the country maintained its stance against halting deportations of undocumented Afghans and other foreign nationals.
The official statement, obtained by VOA news, stated, “[The] government of Pakistan is pleased to extend the validity of the Proof of Registration, or PoR, cards issued to the registered Afghan refugees … till [31st] December 2023.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Pakistan expressed satisfaction with the decision, emphasising that the delay, which was anticipated in early July, had subjected refugee families to harassment and abuse during the nationwide crackdown.
The registered refugees, primarily comprised of families fleeing decades of conflict and persecution since the late 1970s, had their PoR cards renewed every six months. However, this renewal did not occur when it expired on June 30, as indicated in the Friday statement, which did not provide reasons for the delay.
In early October, Islamabad issued a one-month ultimatum for all foreigners without legal documents to voluntarily return to their countries by November 1, warning of arrests and deportations for those remaining.
The caretaker Prime Minister, Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, said on Wednesday that over 250,000 Afghan individuals had voluntarily returned since the announcement, part of a plan to remove migrants without proper documentation, according to Voa News
The Taliban government in Afghanistan opposed the deportation plan, urging Islamabad to reconsider. The UN and global rights groups criticized the forced eviction, citing a potential humanitarian crisis and concerns about retribution and abuses by the Taliban.
Amnesty International called on Pakistan to immediately cease detentions and deportations, emphasizing the international legal obligation of non-refoulement. Livia Saccardi, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for campaigns for South Asia, warned that continued deportations would deny at-risk Afghans access to safety, education, and livelihood.
Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch reiterated that the policy targeted all individuals in the country illegally, dismissing criticism. She emphasiSed Pakistan’s commitment to implementing its laws, which include sanctions such as fines, prison sentences, and deportation for those residing unlawfully.
Officials cited a surge in terrorist attacks by Taliban-affiliated militants from Afghan sanctuaries as a reason for the crackdown but clarified that registered Afghan refugees and over 8,00,000 others documented by the Pakistani government were not subject to deportation.
Afghans facing eviction include those who fled the Taliban’s takeover in Kabul two years ago, lacking legal documents or with expired visas. The US moved to prevent the forced expulsion of around 25,000 Afghans eligible for relocation or resettlement. Pakistani Prime Minister Kakar assured that individuals listed by the US would not be forcibly removed.
The US withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 saw the Taliban regain power, imposing their interpretation of Islamic law. Economic uncertainty awaits returnees, with Gallup warning of bleak job prospects, squeezed household incomes, and challenges in affording basic necessities in Afghanistan, where women’s rights continue to deteriorate.