October 26, 2023
ISLAMABAD – Interim Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti on Wednesday said the government’s message about action against illegal residents was misunderstood and its deportation drive was against all those living illegally in the country, not just Afghans.
The statement comes as only a week remains to the government’s October 31 deadline for illegal immigrants to leave Pakistan. On October 3, the interim government had announced that otherwise, all law enforcement agencies would deport those living illegally in the country.
Bugti had said then that 1.73 million unregistered illegal Afghans were living in the country. State media had previously reported that the decision to evict 1.1m foreigners living illegally was because of their involvement in funding and facilitating terrorists and other illegal activities.
The announcement drew criticism from several quarters with many saying the drive was aimed at Afghan refugees.
Briefing the Senate Standing Committee on Interior today, Bugti said the government’s announcement was misconstrued and an incorrect message was delivered.
“We were talking about deporting illegal residents but it was conveyed through our announcement [as if] we are only deporting Afghans. The government’s message was not just for the Afghans. The announcement was for all illegal residents,” the interior minister clarified.
He said that anyone who had a refugee card or a visa was “our guest”, adding that the government was also similarly deporting illegal entrants coming from Iran belonging to the Baloch community.
“The perception is being given that this is an ethnic issue,” Bugti said and rebuffed any such notion, reiterating that the matter at hand was only about deporting illegal residents from the country.
The interior minister said that no country in the world allowed someone to come and begin living there illegally.
Questioned by reporters later on an extension in the deadline, Bugti said there was no proposal to this effect for now and all stakeholders would deliberate if any arrived.
“Our hope is to establish a one-document regime after November 1. Anyone who wants to travel to Pakistan will bring a passport,” he said, adding that the government had devised phased plans to deport those living illegally in the country.
Bugti reiterated that there was no ethnic angle to the issue and there was no diplomatic interference in the matter, adding that “nor is there any need for it”.
A day ago, Sindh Home Minister retired Brig Haris Nawaz had similarly said that the impression that the operation was only against those belonging to one country was not correct, adding that the crackdown was against all foreigners who were illegally staying in the country.
Meanwhile, Balochistan Information Minister Jan Achakzai had asked political parties not to patronise illegal immigrants living in the country, saying that whosoever tried to do so was going against the state.