End of December 2022, the nightmare of Afghan Refugees in Pakistan

Hasht-E Subh While the last days of December 2022, bring celebration and happiness for many people around the world, for Afghan refugees in Pakistan, it is a nightmare of imprisonment or fear of torture and death.

A few months ago, the government of Pakistan announced a Scheme for Overstaying Foreigners to Exit Pakistan based on which Afghan refugees in Pakistan, whose residency period has expired, must leave this country by the end of 2022. If not, they will be arrested, deported and blacklisted from re-entering Pakistan; they will be fined or imprisoned for 3 years.

Although some HRD organizations and some Afghan and Pakistani figures have tried to propose solutions to the Pakistani government to solve this problem, but so far there are no encouraging answers that guarantee the immunity of targeted Afghans in Pakistan.

The UNHCR office in Pakistan has remained silent in this regard and seems unable to protect the refugees against the decision of the Pakistani government. However, there have always been complaints from those registered, regarding the non-handling the cases of Afghan refugees through UNHCR. This organization has been accused of colliding with the Pakistani government in not recognizing Afghan refugees and putting pressure on them.

After the fall of the Afghan government in August 2021, a large number of Afghans entered Pakistan in order to immigrate to another country and escape from the threats posed to their lives by the Taliban. During this period, some of them were transferred to refugee-accepting countries through special programs. Some of them are still waiting for their immigration cases to be processed, and some of them were registered by UNHCR as refugees whose lives are in danger.

According to the statements of Afghans living in Pakistan, their entry into this country has not been easy. Most of them have been forced to pay huge amounts of 600-1000 US dollars to get a Pakistani visa from the black market. Some large families, claim that they spent all their assets to get Pakistani visas, and after entering Pakistan, they applied for extensions. But months have passed since their application was submitted through Pakistan’s e-visa online system and these applications are still under process. They accuse the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan for selling visas through the black market and the Ministry of Interior for selling residence extensions through brokers. Currently, the price of a new visa is more than 1100 USD and extension is more than 100 USD in the black market.

Sara (pseudonym), who is the wife of one of the former soldiers of the previous Afghan government and lives in Pakistan with her two brothers, a sister and her mother, says: “In February, by paying 4200 dollars, she obtained 5 Pakistani visas; after entering Pakistan, they applied to extend their visas. According to what is mentioned on the website of the Pakistani Ministry of Interior, this request should have been processed within 7-10 working days. But seven months later, it is still under review.” She adds: “I had to pay the brokers 22,000 PKR for each visa, not to face the legal action of the Pakistani government at the end of December 2022. The brokers completed our pending applications within two working days and got us a 6 months extension.”

Other Afghans in Pakistan have similar experiences. In response to why they are not willing to return to Afghanistan, they say: “We left Afghanistan to save our lives. Although a general amnesty was announced by the Taliban, many were tortured, and many were killed. Some of us lost our family members, but no one heard our complaints, and no one could guarantee our safety. If we were secure in Afghanistan, we would not have spent all our money to get Pakistani visas. In Pakistan, we are deprived of all rights and are humiliated and discriminated on daily basis. Everyone asks for a ransom, and no one defends our rights. But we have to stay here, because under the Taliban, our lives are in danger.”

Although official meetings between the foreign ministers of Pakistan and the Taliban took place in Kabul at the end of November, there was no mention of the problem of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Afghans living in Pakistan hope to receive attention from the international community and the United Nations on this issue. So that the government of Pakistan will be convinced through these channel to extend the deadline or consider an alternative solution for Afghans to stay in Pakistan.

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