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Thousands of Afghans packing up amid crackdown

July 27, 2016

Over 8,600 illegal foreigners held in Peshawar in 2016 

PESHAWAR: Thousands of Afghan families are packing up to leave for their homeland after the recent crackdown against those illegally staying in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, particularly in the provincial capital. Many have sold their shops and businesses and have either left or preparing to leave for Afghanistan.

Some of the departing Afghan refugees were born in Pakistan after their parents and other family members arrived here following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

The majority of the Afghan refugees decided to leave after the police intensified action against those not possessing documents to legalise their stay in Pakistan or who had obtained fake Pakistani computerised national identity cards (CNIC) through dubious means.

Pakistani authorities have announced a cash reward of Rs10,000 for those providing information about any foreigner who has obtained a fake Pakistani CNIC. “We knew Ismail since our childhood. He owned a tailor shop on the Kohat Road which he sold a week ago to leave for Afghanistan,” said Safeer Ahmad, a resident of Peshawar. He added that some of the Afghan prayer leaders, vendors, labourers and others have also started packing up to leave Peshawar before December 31, the last day until which the registered Afghan refugees can stay in Pakistan.

“Many living in our streets have left while others are planning to leave in the coming few weeks after selling their shops, businesses and household items. Those living in rented houses have already informed their landlords that they are leaving,” said Zulfiqar, a resident of Hayatabad.

Over 8,600 Afghan refugees have been rounded up during snap checking, search and strike operations and other actions by the police during the current year in Peshawar alone.

They were charged under the Foreigners Act leading to their deportation via Torkham. Action against Afghans who neither obtained the proof of registration card (PoR) or valid travel documents and visa to justify their stay in Pakistan was expedited since early last year under the National Action Plan (NAP).

According to Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Operations, Peshawar, Abbas Majeed Marwat, policemen have been strictly directed not to bother those who have PoR cards or valid travel documents.

However, there have been a number of complaints that those having valid documents or PoR cards were rounded up and charged by the police to show their efficiency.

Some cases of this nature were reported to the police bosses despite directives by the federal and provincial governments not to harass those having valid documents.

There have been similar complaints in the past that Afghans with valid documents were harassed by the police and other law-enforcement agencies. The inspector general of police, KP, demoted a cop in May after he allegedly harassed an Afghan refugee in Kohat. “As many as 195 illegally residing foreigners (Afghans) have been arrested under the Foreigners Act in Peshawar during the last three days,” a spokesman for the Peshawar Capital City Police said.

The capital city police authorities said over 8,600 have been held under the Foreigners Act during the current year till July 24. “Many of the illegal foreigners were involved in various crimes and acts of terrorism. The crackdown against illegal Afghans has helped improve law and order and reduced crimes by 42 percent,” claimed the capital city police.

According to the estimates of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are around 1.5 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, including a huge number settled in Peshawar. Besides, another one million Afghans live in Peshawar and the rest of the country without having PoR cards or travel documents.

Thousands of families have obtained Pakistani national identity cards through fraud and bribe. Action has already been launched by the government announcing a reward of Rs10,000 for information about Afghans having fake Pakistani CNICs.

Some Afghans are ready to surrender their fake CNICs in order to get PoR cards as they want to stay in Pakistan. “Thousands of families want to stay in Pakistan as there is no business, education, health and other facilities in Afghanistan,” said one Fazal Rabbi, an Afghan born in Peshawar.

Observers believe the return of such a large number of Afghans to their homes would bring down the prices and rents of properties and create jobs and business opportunities for the locals and reduce burden on hospitals and educational institutions. 

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