44,000 Afghans in Pakistan waiting for relocation to Western nations: Pak govt

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Islamabad, Jul 11 (PTI) Pakistan said on Thursday that it was hosting at least 44,000 Afghan nationals approved and accepted for relocation by the Western nations to their countries due to fear of reprisal against them by the Taliban.

In 2021, Pakistan saw an exodus of Afghans who left their country after the NATO-backed Afghan government crumbled and the Taliban entered Kabul.

Addressing the weekly press briefing in Islamabad, Foreign Office spokeswoman Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said that at least 44,000 Afghans approved for relocation to Western nations are still in Pakistan.

She said that 25,000 Afghans were approved for relocation to the US, 9,000 Afghan nationals accepted for relocation by Australia, 6,000 by Canada, 3,000 by Germany, and over 1,000 by the UK, but were still living in Pakistan.

Baloch said they were all yet to be relocated despite the lapse of almost three years since the NATO-backed Afghan government crumbled and the Taliban entered Kabul, triggering a painful exodus by Afghans who felt threatened by the new regime.

“We have urged them to expedite the approval and visa issuance process for these countries, for these individuals, so that they are relocated as early as possible,” Baloch said.

Initially, Pakistan allowed the fleeing Afghans to enter without any hindrance. However, relations with the interim Kabul government gradually deteriorated over the issue of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants using Afghan soil to attack Pakistan.

Last year, Pakistan launched a crackdown on illegal aliens, mostly Afghans, and so far, over half a million are reported to have gone back to Afghanistan.

Last year in October, the caretaker government announced the decision to expel all illegal foreigners, which hit the Afghans living in Pakistan especially hard.

The deportation of illegal Afghan refugees has been going on since the government’s ultimatum for them to leave Pakistan by November 1, last year.

Pakistan refused to relax the drive against illegal Afghans despite requests by Kabul, but a meeting between UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday raised hopes that Islamabad may reconsider the drive.

A statement attributed to Grandi also showed that Pakistan would stop expelling Afghans, but Baloch said that Pakistan was committed to implementing the Illegal Foreigners Repatriation Plan.

She said the first phase of this plan is near completion and alluded to the illegal foreigners, including Afghans repatriated to their home countries.

The spokesperson clarified that Pakistan had not given any understanding to the UNHCR for the plan's suspension.

However, she pointed out that the government has approved a one-year extension of the validity of the Proof of Registration cards of Afghan refugees.

Baloch also rejected any talks with the TTP by saying that the terrorist entity was involved in the killing of Pakistani and foreign citizens inside Pakistan.

She also said Pakistan respects Afghanistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“We expect the Afghan authorities to uphold their sovereignty and take action against terrorist groups which have found sanctuaries inside Afghanistan and use their territory for terrorist attacks against Pakistan,” she said. PTI SH GRS AKJ GRS GRS

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