ASIAN SECURITYWhy Pakistan Is Deporting Afghan Migrants

By Megan Fahrney

Published 19 December 2023

Pakistan’s decision to deport undocumented migrants over perceived security risks is poised to affect almost two million Afghans.

Pakistan’s announcement in October 2023 that it would expel all unregistered migrants has sparked fears among the country’s nearly two million undocumented Afghans that they will be deported back to dangerous conditions. Pakistan says the measure is necessary to stem the growing influence of terrorist groups operating in its border region, but critics, including both the United States and Afghanistan’s Taliban government, warn it could lead to further radicalization. 

What Is Pakistan’s Deportation Policy?
The deportation order applies to all “unregistered foreigners” remaining in Pakistan as of November 1, 2023. Afghan citizens are most directly affected: more than 4 million reside in Pakistan, and an estimated 1.7 million are undocumented. Many have lived there for decades, having fled Afghanistan in the 1980s during the country’s occupation by the Soviet Union. Smaller numbers of undocumented Somalians and Yemenis living in Pakistan are also threatened by this new policy.  

To carry out the policy, Pakistan’s government has had to hastily create forty-nine new deportation centers, and conditions there are reportedly grim. Some 15,000 Afghans are crossing the border daily and an estimated 450,000 have already left. Pakistani officials have offered assurance that Afghan residents with legal documentation will not be expelled, but there have been reports that some have been targeted anyway. This has led many legal residents to preemptively flee the country, fearing intimidation by Pakistani authorities and eviction by landlords. Meanwhile, the country’s Supreme Court has begun hearings challenging the order.

Why Is Pakistan Deporting Migrants?
Islamabad says the policy is mainly designed to fight terrorism. The disputed Pakistan-Afghanistan border, also known as the “Durand Line” after the British diplomat who negotiated it, has been home to an array of extremist groups for decades.

These include the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, also known as the Pakistani Taliban, and the Islamic State in Khorasan, an offshoot of the broader Islamic State group. Pakistani officials have blamed Afghan nationals for a sharp increase in high-profile terrorist attacks and accused Afghanistan’s Taliban-led government of harboring militants. “A significant portion of those involved in criminal and terrorist activities are among these illegal immigrants,” Pakistan’s interim Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said in November 2023.