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Pakistan sets up centres to hold illegal migrants

ISLAMABAD (AP) – Pakistan is setting up deportation centres for migrants who are in the country illegally, including an estimated 1.7 million Afghans, officials said yesterday.

Anyone found staying in the country without authorisation from next Wednesday will be arrested and sent to one of centres.

The move is the latest development in a Pakistani government crackdown to expel foreigners without registration or documents.

Jan Achakzai, a spokesman for the government in southwestern Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, said three deportation centers were being set up there. One will be in Quetta, the provincial capital.

Azam Khan, the caretaker chief minister for northwest Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said the region also would have three deportation centres.

More than 60,000 Afghans have returned home since the crackdown was announced, he said.

Local residents and Afghan nationals chant slogan during a protest rally in the southwestern border town of Chaman, Pakistan. PHOTOS: AP

Migrants who are living in the country illegally should leave before a Tuesday deadline to avoid arrest, he said. Pakistan’s caretaker interior minister, Sarfraz Bugti, said the deadline will not be extended.

Bugti said during a news conference yesterday that no migrants living in Pakistan without authorisation illegally would be mistreated after their arrests. “They will not be manhandled,” he said, adding that they would get food and medical care until their deportations.

They are allowed to take a maximum of PKR50,000 (USD180) out of the country, he said.

The minister warned Pakistanis that action would be taken against them if they are found to be sheltering migrants who are in the country illegally after November 1. The government has information about the areas where these migrants are hiding, Bugti said.

Deporting them is a challenge for the state, but “nothing is impossible to achieve it”, he added.

The country hosts millions of Afghans who fled their country during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation. The numbers swelled after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021.

Pakistan said the 1.4 million Afghans who are registered as refugees need not worry. It denies targeting Afghans and says the focus is on people who are in the country illegally, regardless of their nationality.

In the southwest Pakistani border town of Chaman, tens of thousands of people protested the crackdown and new plans requiring the town’s residents to obtain a visa to cross the border into Afghanistan. They previously had special permits. The protesters included Afghans.

“We have relatives in Afghanistan. We also do business there; we have our shops there,” Allah Noor Achakzai, a 50-year old Pakistani said.

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