Decision to expel illegal aliens compliant with global norms, principles: FO

With only a day to go until the government’s deadline for illegal immigrants to leave Pakistan expires, the Foreign Office (FO) on Monday said that the decision to expel such individuals was in exercise of the country’s domestic laws and “compliant with applicable international norms and principles”.

The statement was issued in response to the Of­­fice of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which had called on the Pakistani government to “suspend forcible returns of Afghan nationals before it is too late to avoid a human rights catastrophe”.

While the government’s decision had prompted criticism from Afghanistan, Pakistan has said that it is not aimed at any particular ethnic group.

“We call on them to continue providing protection to those in need and ensure that any fut­ure returns are safe, dignified and voluntary, and fully consistent with int­ernational law,” OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Sha­­mdasani said in a sta­tement from Geneva on Friday.

“We believe many of those facing deportation will be at grave risk of human rights violations if returned to Afghanistan, including arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, cruel and other inhuman treatment,” the spokesperson said.

“We are extremely alarmed by Pakistan’s announcement that it plans to deport ‘undocumented’ foreign nationals remaining in the country after Nov 1, a measure that will disproportionately imp­act more than 1.4 million undocumented Afghans who remain in Pakistan,” she said.

In a statement issued today, FO spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said that Pakistan had seen the press statement issued by OHCHR.

It said that the repatriation planned applied to “all illegal foreigners residing in Pakistan, irrespective of their nationality and country of origin”.

“The decision is in exercise of Pakistan’s sovereign domestic laws, and compliant with applicable international norms and principles,” Baloch said.

The FO spokesperson added that all foreign nationals legally residing/registered in Pakistan were “beyond the purview of this plan”.

“The government of Pakistan takes its commitments towards protection and safety needs of those in vulnerable situations with utmost seriousness. Our record of the last forty years in hosting millions of our Afghan brothers and sisters speaks for itself,” she said.

Baloch also called on the international community to scale-up efforts to address “protracted refugee situations through advancing durable solutions as a matter of priority”.

“Pakistan will continue to work with our international partners to this end,” Baloch said.

Deadline and repatriation plan

Earlier this month, the government gave an ultimatum to all undocumented immigrants, including Afghan nationals, to leave Pakistan by Oct 31 or else, risk imprisonment and deportation to their respective countries.

The decision was taken in an apex committee meeting headed by caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar and attended by Chief of Army Staff General Asim Munir, among others. The committee also decided that movement across the border would be subject to passports and visas, while electronic Afghan identity cards (or e-tazkiras) would only be accepted until October 31.

Last week, caretaker Inte­rior Minister Sarfraz Bugti said foreign nationals residing in the country without identity documents would be kept at “holding centres” before deportation to their respective countries.

At a press conference held in the federal capital, the caretaker minister shared the details of a plan to expel refugees, saying instead of keeping them in prisons, the authorities would house them in detention centres set up in all provinces, including Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and Islamabad.

He assured these undocumented immigrants, especially women, children and elderly, would be kept at these centres “with respect” and provided with meals and medical facilities. “But after November 1, we will not compromise on the issue of expulsion of illegal immigrants,” he underlined.

Bugti explained that those being expelled from the country would only be allowed to carry their local currency amounting to Rs50,000 per family. In the case of Afghan families, they can carry 50,000 Afghan Afghanis, he added.

He said that funds exceeding this number could only be wired through proper banking channels. “All modalities are being finalised in this regard,” he added.

The minister reiterated that he was talking about those individuals living in Pakistan who did not have valid travel documents. “We will expel all illegal immigrants in phases, and in the first phase, those having no valid documents will be repatriated,” he said.

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