Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing overwhelmed as Afghans face expulsion

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Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing overwhelmed as Afghans face expulsion

Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Trucks loaded with goods are seen as Afghan nationals head back to Afghanistan, at the Torkham border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan, October 30, 2023. — The Norwegian Refugee Council handout pic via Reuters

PESHAWAR, Nov 2 — Pakistan’s north-western border crossing was flooded with thousands of people looking to cross into Afghanistan today, a day after the government’s deadline expired for undocumented foreigners to leave or face expulsion.

Pakistani authorities had begun rounding up undocumented foreigners, most of them Afghans, hours before Wednesday’s deadline. More than a million Afghans could have to leave or face arrest and forcible expulsion as a result of the ultimatum delivered by the Pakistan government a month ago.

Scrambling to cope with the sudden influx, the Taliban-run administration in Afghanistan said temporary transit camps had been set up, and food and medical assistance would be provided, but relief agencies reported dire conditions across the border.

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“The organisations’ teams stationed in the areas where people are returning from Pakistan have reported chaotic and desperate scenes among those who have returned,” the Norwegian Refugee Council, Danish Refugee Council, and the International Rescue Committee said in a joint statement.

The Pakistan government has brushed off calls from the United Nations, rights groups and Western embassies to reconsider its expulsion plan, saying Afghans had been involved in militant attacks and crime that undermined the security of the country.

Afghan nationals are pictured as they head back to Afghanistan, at the Torkham border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan, October 30, 2023. — The Norwegian Refugee Council handout pic via Reuters

Afghan nationals are pictured as they head back to Afghanistan, at the Torkham border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan, October 30, 2023. — The Norwegian Refugee Council handout pic via Reuters

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Border bottleneck

More than 24,000 Afghans crossed into Afghanistan using the Torkham border crossing on Wednesday alone, Deputy Commissioner Khyber Tribal District Abdul Nasir Khan told Reuters.

Pakistan authorities have barred media access to the Torkham border crossing since Tuesday.

“There were a large number waiting for clearance and we made extra arrangements to better facilitate the clearance process,” Khan said.

Authorities had worked well into the night at a camp set up near the crossing, he added. The border, at the northwestern end of the Khyber Pass on the road between Peshawar in Pakistan and Jalalabad in Afghanistan, is usually closed by sundown.

Khan said 128,000 Afghans have left for through the border crossing since the Pakistan government issued its directive.

More were crossing through border at Chaman, in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan.

Major roads leading to border crossings were jammed with trucks carrying families and whatever belongings they could carry.

The aid agencies estimated the number of arrivals at Torkham “had gone up from 300 people a day to 9,000 to 10,000 people daily since Pakistan’s announcement.”

Some Afghans who have been ordered to leave have spent decades in Pakistan, while some have never been to Afghanistan, and wondering how they can start a new life there.

Of the more than 4 million Afghans living in Pakistan, the government estimates 1.7 million are undocumented.

Many fled during the decades of conflict that Afghanistan suffered since the late 1970s, while the Taliban takeover after the US withdrawal in 2021 led to another exodus.

Aid agencies warned that the mass movement of people could tip Afghanistan into yet another crisis and expressed “grave concerns” about the survival and reintegration of the returnees, particularly with the onset of winter.

International humanitarian funding for the county dried up after the Taliban took over and imposed restrictions on women. — Reuters

Afghan nationals stand in a queue as they wait to undergo screening to access humanitarian aid at the Torkham border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan, October 30, 2023. — The Norwegian Refugee Council handout pic via Reuters

Afghan nationals stand in a queue as they wait to undergo screening to access humanitarian aid at the Torkham border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan, October 30, 2023. — The Norwegian Refugee Council handout pic via Reuters

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