Pakistan has deported at least 500 Afghan refugees following their detention in a northwestern border province, local officials say.
Mushtaq Ahmad Ghani, the provincial information minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said Wednesday that unregistered Afghans have become a major security issue for the Islamabad government.
“We don’t suggest any aggressive campaign against Afghan refugees, but we have been hosting them for the past 35 years and it is time they should go back to their country,” Ghani said.
The provincial minister also urged the federal government in Islamabad to review its policy on the refugees, saying, “If Pakistan wants to host them, then it needs to register them and bring them under a proper network.”
Abdul Qadir Baloch, Pakistan’s federal minister for states and frontier regions, has warned that the country is not willing to host Afghan refugees indefinitely.
The Afghan refugees who remain are routinely accused by authorities of harboring militants.
Sartaj Aziz, foreign policy adviser to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, told a Pakistani television channel last week that Afghan refugee camps have become “safe havens for terrorists.”
According to Pakistan’s English-language Dawn newspaper, more than 2,000 Afghan refugees were detained in May, 400 of whom were deported to Afghanistan.
The number of Afghans voluntarily returning home has plunged this year as violence worsens in Afghanistan.
The United Nations Refugee Agency says about 6,000 Afghans have chosen to return home from Pakistan so far in 2016, well below last year’s voluntary repatriations that amounted to over 58,000.
The Pakistani government is still undecided on the renewal of the refugees’ registration cards beyond June 30. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said during a recent visit to Pakistan that he had made the case to the government for extending the June 30 deadline.
Grandi has urged Pakistanis not to blame the Afghan refugees for terrorism in their country amid growing calls for their deportation. He has warned that the 2.5 million Afghans in Pakistan risk becoming a forgotten crisis.
The UN official has also called on the international community to fund efforts to support the Afghan refugees.
Pakistan has the second-largest refugee population in the world. More than 1.5 million registered, and about a million unregistered, refugees from Afghanistan, have lived in Pakistan for decades and contribute significantly to its labor force.