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With deadline looming, Pakistan finalises plan for repatriation of thousands of illegal immigrants

With deadline looming, Pakistan finalises plan for repatriation of thousands of illegal immigrants
Islamabad, The Pakistan government on Thursday said it has set up "holding centres" across the country and finalised a plan to deport illegal immigrants, including an estimated 1.7 million Afghans, by the October 31 deadline. Earlier this month, Pakistan gave an ultimatum to "all undocumented immigrants, including 1.7 million Afghan nationals," to leave Pakistan by the deadline, or else, risk imprisonment and deportation.

Although the Pakistan government has maintained that the announcement of deportation was not restricted to Afghans and was applicable to all illegal immigrants, caretaker Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti did blame them on Thursday.

"Illegal Afghan nationals were responsible for 14 of the 24 suicide bombings in the country this year. Safety and security of the people of Pakistan is the prime responsibility and foremost priority of the government," The News International quoted Bugti as saying at a press conference.

"Urging illegal immigrants living in Pakistan to return to their countries voluntarily, Bugti said that the government had finalised the plan for repatriating such individuals," a Dawn News report said.

Stating that "no compromise will be made" as the deadline nears, Bugti said: "Centres have been set up in various cities across the country to keep the illegal immigrants, while those leaving voluntarily will be helped to leave Pakistan."

"It is a challenging task (but) Pakistan is determined to expel all illegal immigrants," Bugti was quoted by The International News as saying.

The decision (to expel all illegal immigrants) 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.

The Dawn also quoted Bugti as saying that "holding centres" had been formed in the provinces as well as Islamabad, Pakistan-Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, and Gilgit-Baltistan and that "illegal immigrants would be provided medical facilities and food."

Bugti also assured that women, children and the elderly would be treated with respect. "So in the first stage, we will expel them. We have made holding centres for them. They will not be sent to jail [...] and from the centre, they will be transported out of Pakistan," the Dawn said quoting the Interim Interior Minister.

He also announced the terms and conditions for the return of all such immigrants and said the state had "done geo-fencing and identified areas where illegal immigrants were residing."

Bugti said that a drastic crackdown would be launched against the illegal immigrants, including Afghan nationals, who would be arrested and expelled to their native countries.

"At least 4.2 million Afghan people were living in Pakistan, of which not less than three million were living illegally without any legal documents," he said.

Pakistan has been hosting Afghan refugees for the past four decades when millions of them fled Afghanistan during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation.

After the October 5 announcement giving the October 31 deadline, especially to the Afghans, received widespread criticism, the Foreign Office clarified that the decision to deport illegal residents was not specifically targeted at the Afghan refugees but "against all immigrants residing in the country illegally without valid visa documents."

Quoting Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, The International News said the national policy towards the Afghan refugees in the country "remained unchanged" and their safe repatriation was a separate issue.

The outlawed Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, often claim attacks on Pakistani security forces. Pakistan has long demanded that the Taliban authorities in Afghanistan cease their support for the TTP.

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