Pakistan extends deadline for Afghan refugees in transit to Western countries

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Amidst mounting international pressure, Pakistan has extended the deadline for the repatriation of Afghan nationals without proper documents and waiting to relocate to Western countries till February 29. The development comes a week after US Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West visited Pakistan and met with Pakistan’s caretaker Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jillani. “The decision to extend the deadline from December 31 to February 29, 2024, was taken to encourage Afghan nationals to obtain legal documents or finalise evacuation arrangements in a third country as soon as possible,” the Dawn newspaper quoted the caretaker Information Minister Murtaza Solangi as saying.

Solangi was speaking to the media after the caretaker federal cabinet on Wednesday extended the deadline for the repatriation of Afghan nationals who have been residing in the country without proper documentation, but waiting to relocate to Western countries under their respective resettlement plan. During West’s visit, the two sides discussed a range of issues, including the ongoing drive against undocumented Afghans, the report said. The forced expulsion of Afghans without documentation has drawn widespread criticism from human rights activists, UN officials, and others, who have asked Pakistan to reconsider the controversial policy.

On Wednesday, the cabinet also decided that Afghan nationals who have to leave for a third country and do not have any legal documents or processing fees would be fined USD 400 for overstaying in Pakistan instead of the earlier fixed amount of USD 800. “After the due date, a fine would be imposed at the rate of USD 100 per month with a maximum limit of USD 800. The cabinet was informed about 4,50,000 people had gone back to their native country – the majority voluntarily,” the report said. In the 1980s, millions of Afghans fled to neighbouring Pakistan during the Soviet occupation of their country. The numbers witnessed a spike after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021.

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An estimated 1.7 million Afghans had been living in Pakistan when authorities announced its nationwide crackdown, saying that anyone without proper documents had to leave the country by October 31 or else get arrested. The authorities said the almost 1.4 million Afghans registered as refugees need not worry as only people without proper documentation were sought after. Pakistan has witnessed a series of terror attacks and has openly said it suspects the involvement of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a splinter group of Afghan Taliban. The country has repeatedly urged the Afghan government to take action against the TTP and its affiliates.