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Afghans deported by Pakistan ‘at risk’


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PAKISTAN’S huge deportation drive has forcibly repatriated scores of Afghans awaiting resettlement in the United States, an advocacy group and Afghan applicants said, adding that Pakistani authorities often ignored the US embassy’s letters of protection given to the repatriates.

That complicates the efforts of such Afghans, as the US has shuttered its embassy in Kabul and they must also grapple with human rights restrictions and financial and humanitarian crises in their homeland.

Islamabad began expelling more than a million undocumented foreigners, mostly Afghans, on November 1, amid a row over accusations that Kabul harbours Pakistani militants, a charge the ruling Taliban deny.

More than 450,000 Afghans have returned home, the United Nations said, and many are now living in difficult winter conditions near the border.

At least 130 Afghans being processed for US special immigration visas or refugee resettlement in the United States have been deported, said Shawn VanDiver, president of #AfghanEvac, the main coalition of groups helping such efforts.

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He cited data from coalition members and details provided to the US government by its Islamabad embassy, which he has seen.

Pakistani police arrested more than 230 such Afghans, although about 80 have since been released, he added.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior State Department official said the United States had “no formal way to track these kinds of cases”, adding that the number of Afghans deported while awaiting US resettlement was “very small”.

Pakistan’s foreign and interior ministries did not respond to requests for comment.

As the clock ticked down to November 1, the embassy emailed protection letters to some 25,000 Afghans to prove to Pakistani authorities they were being processed for resettlement in the United States after its last troops left Kabul in 2021.

A US State Department spokesperson said Washington had also supplied Pakistan with a list of Afghans “in the US resettlement pipelines” after it unveiled the deportation plan in October.

VanDiver and two Western diplomatic sources, who requested anonymity to discuss the issue, said local authorities had ignored the letters in many instances. “The letters matter in some cases and not in others,” said VanDiver. “Not all local officers are abiding by it.”

The senior State Department official said the United States has examples of Pakistani police respecting the letters, but did not give details.

Reuters spoke to two Afghan families whose members were deported after showing police the letter and an Afghan who was detained despite the letter.

The latter said he was released with a warning that he would be arrested again if he was found without a visa extension.

Refugee advocates and Afghans said the deportations and arrests underscore the precarious nature of the long wait facing Afghans whom Washington has vowed to protect and resettle, with many of them told to travel to a third country for processing.

US officials said they are trying to keep in touch with the thousands of Afghans in Pakistan through an emergency hotline based on the WhatsApp communications app in the languages of Dari, Pashto and English.

The state department has successfully averted deportations in several cases flagged up on the hotline, the state official said.

The Taliban, which opposes Pakistan’s mass deportation, said they have a general amnesty for former foes of their 20-year insurgency and promised to support those returning from Pakistan.

Few Afghans accept those assurances and live in fear of the Taliban’s curbs on women and a humanitarian crisis fuelled by foreign aid cuts and the severance of ties to global banking.

Islamabad said it is battling economic and security crises and cannot host the 600,000 Afghans who have arrived since the Taliban takeover, swelling the burden of hosting millions who fled during decades of war.

Last month, the caretaker government said it would extend to February the December 31 deadline for Afghans seeking resettlement in third countries to renew paperwork, while halving an overstay fee for those leaving with expired visas.

Three senior US officials, including Afghanistan Special Representative Thomas West, recently visited Islamabad for talks on the issue, but the outcome is not clear. (Reuters)


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