In the last three months, Iran and Pakistan have forced around 850,000 undocumented Afghan nationals to return to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, officials reported Sunday.
The crackdown on Afghans illegally residing in the neighboring countries is ongoing, despite warnings by the United Nations that a harsh winter and an uncertain future await returnees in their crisis-ridden, impoverished nation.
Abdul Rahman Rashid, the Taliban minister of refugees and repatriation, told the local TOLO news channel Monday that Iran had deported “approximately 345,000” Afghans since the last week of September.
Without giving further details, Rashid said the Taliban administration had provided each returning family with cash grants and other urgent assistance.
Iranian authorities have pledged to deport Afghans illegally residing in their country.
Officials in Pakistan have reported that almost 490,000 individuals have returned to Afghanistan since the government ordered a crackdown on all illegal foreigners, including an estimated 1.7 million Afghan nationals two months ago.
Interior Minister Sarfaraz Bugti claimed at a news conference in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, over the weekend that “more than 90%” of undocumented Afghans had returned or doing so “voluntarily.”
U.N. refugee agencies have reported a gradual decrease in the number of returnees from Pakistan in recent days but anticipate an additional 280,000 individuals are expected to return to Afghanistan from the neighboring country by July 2024.
The World Health Organization cautioned last week that “the vulnerability of returnees will intensify during the harsh winter, leading to a greater demand for lifesaving healthcare services as the situation evolves.
The Pakistani government has justified its deportation campaign, saying it is in line with the country’s immigration laws, and breachers of such regulations around the world face the same fate.
Pakistan has repeatedly clarified that the crackdown is not targeting nearly 2.3 million documented Afghans, including 1.4 million refugees.
Following a four-month delay, Islamabad last month extended the legal status of 1.4 Afghan refugees until the end of the year, bringing at least temporary relief to the refugee community. However, Pakistani officials have rejected the U.N. pleas to cease deporting Afghans who lack proper documentation.
The Taliban have established makeshift camps on the Afghan side of the border, where returnees can stay while they wait to be transported to their native cities across Afghanistan. The de facto authorities have urged neighboring countries not to mistreat and force Afghan nationals out.
Pakistani authorities defended their crackdown, saying Pakistani anti-state militants sheltering in Afghanistan have intensified cross-border terrorist attacks since the Taliban regained control of the country two years ago.
Islamabad claims some illegal Afghan nationals have also facilitated the deadly wave of terror by carrying out more than a dozen suicide bombings in Pakistan this year.
Taliban authorities maintain they are not allowing anyone to use their soil against Pakistan or any other country and condemned the deportations of Afghans as an “inhuman act.”