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Deadline: Undocumented migrants in Pakistan must leave or face deportation


Today is the deadline set by the Pakistani government for all undocumented immigrants to leave or face deportation.


Pakistan is home to over 1 million Afghans, some of whom have lived in this country for decades, fleeing war after war after war in Afghanistan and many who fled Taliban rule following the U.S. troop withdrawal just a couple of years ago. In the last few months, tens of thousands of those Afghans have been arrested and deported.

MARTÍNEZ: Rick Noack covers Afghanistan for The Washington Post. He joins me now from Kabul. Why is the Pakistani government asking these people to leave the country?

RICK NOACK: Good morning. Well, the Pakistani government portrays this as a decision that was long overdue. They say they've done far more than any other country for Afghan refugees. They've hosted millions who arrived over various waves of migrations since the 1970s. And they argue that this is a burden they can no longer carry. But this deportation drive also comes at a time when Pakistan's economy continues to sink deeper and deeper into crisis. And it comes amid concerns over a mounting number of suicide bombings and attacks in Pakistan that have been blamed on Afghans. So a lot of these refugees, they're being scapegoated as a result of that.

MARTÍNEZ: And the Afghans who are leaving Pakistan, what are you hearing from them?

NOACK: Well, a lot of the refugees who have left voluntarily over the last few weeks have said that they don't see a future in Pakistan if the country turns against them in that way. Many have stayed home over the past few weeks out of fear that the police could arrest and deport them. They didn't send their children to school. Many parents have lost their jobs. So it's obviously an extremely tough situation, but it's also a very tough decision for them to leave. Many have been in Pakistan for decades, and some were born in the country but never received citizenship. So they're heading to a country they have never been to, really into an unknown future.

MARTÍNEZ: And is that country, Afghanistan, prepared to receive so many people? I mean, if these people have no home in Pakistan and they're going to go to Afghanistan, can they handle them?

NOACK: Well, it's clear that there aren't many open jobs that are waiting for them. And there'll be girls, young women among those returnees who were able to get some education in Pakistan but who will now be returning to a country where schools and universities are closed for them. In terms of preparation, the Taliban-run government has announced that they will create reception camps where refugees can stay for some time. But so far, there's not a broader plan to reintegrate those people, really, into the economy.

MARTÍNEZ: What's the relationship between Pakistan and the Afghan government these days?

NOACK: I think it's a lot tenser than either side would have hoped for two years ago when Pakistan really seemed to be one of the Taliban-run government's strongest advocates on the international stage. One of the top concerns for Pakistan right now is the deteriorating security situation in the country. And Pakistani authorities say that the Taliban-run government is, at least in part, to blame. They argue that many of the suicide bombers and attackers who've killed Pakistani civilians and soldiers in recent months are based in Afghanistan and that the Taliban isn't doing enough to detain them.

MARTÍNEZ: That's The Washington Post's Rick Noack in Kabul. Rick, thank you.

NOACK: Thanks.

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