By Amjad Ali
Torkham, Pakistan, Nov 1 (EFE).- Thousands of Afghan migrants, forced to return to their homeland after spending four decades in Pakistan, are now fearing an uncertain future under the Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
On Oct 3, Pakistani authorities told all undocumented foreigners to leave the country before Nov. 1 under threat of detention and deportation.
Haibat Khan, who arrived in Pakistan as a child with his family during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1997, is one of the 1.7 million undocumented Afghans now forced to leave the country he grew up in after the deadline set by Islamabad expired at midnight on Oct 31.
To avoid deportation, Khan left his home in the northern city of Peshawar, heading with his family, including three children born in Pakistan, to the overcrowded Torkham border crossing, where thousands of Afghans were waiting to be processed to return to the country they had fled years ago.
Leaving behind the hardships of refugee life in Pakistan, Khan fears the bleak future that awaits his family in Afghanistan, particularly his daughters, under the strict Taliban regime.
“In war, you die one day, but under Taliban we will live and die every day,” Khan told Efe while waiting for his turn to cross the border into Afghanistan.
Khan is particularly concerned about the freedoms his daughters will lose under the strict restrictions women face under the Taliban, which severely curtail their fundamental rights, including access to education and employment.
“My daughters were studying here which they will have to abandon when they reach Afghanistan,” Khan said, describing his frustration at Pakistan for not allowing his daughters to stay “so they could continue their studies.”
Since their rise to power in August 2021, the Taliban has significantly altered life in Afghanistan, particularly by almost entirely excluding Afghan women from public life.
Khan, who does not own any land, property or business in Afghanistan, said that his family would have to start their lives from scratch in a country grappling with a severe economic crisis that was worsened by the arrival of the Taliban and the international sanctions imposed on their government.
The hasty Nov. 1 deadline that Islamabad set led to thousands of Afghan refugees flocking to the border, causing chaos at the main crossings between the two countries.
Although Pakistani authorities have extended the deadline until Nov. 2, security forces began the deportation process on Wednesday, detaining and transferring the first undocumented migrants to centers from where they would be repatriated to Afghanistan.
Similar to other South Asian states, Pakistan is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and lacks specific legislation protecting refugees.
According to official data, before the deadline, approximately 4.4 million Afghans lived in Pakistan, 1.7 million of whom were unregistered.
Over 600,000 Afghans fled to Pakistan after the Taliban seized power in 2021.
The Pakistani Ministry of Interior reported that so far, at least 140,322 undocumented migrants have “voluntarily returned” to Afghanistan. EFE