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The Azadi Briefing: A New Crackdown Targets Afghan Migrants In Pakistan

Afghan people rest on tents and blankets as they seek to receive asylum from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Islamabad on May 9, 2022.

Welcome back to The Azadi Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan. To subscribe, click here.

I'm Mustafa Sarwar, a senior news editor at RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. Here's what I've been tracking and what I'm keeping an eye on in the days ahead.

The Key Issue

The Pakistani authorities have arrested hundreds of Afghans in the capital, Islamabad, and the nearby city of Rawalpindi in recent weeks for allegedly living in the country illegally.

But Afghan migrants who spoke to Radio Azadi said many of the Afghans targeted had valid documents and were unlawfully arrested.

"I've been arrested by the police, and even though I have UNHCR documents, they won't accept them," Arzoo Ahmadi, an Afghan migrant who was briefly detained in Pakistan, told Radio Azadi.

The Taliban-led government in Afghanistan said around 250 Afghans have been arrested in recent weeks. It is unclear how many have been freed or deported.

The Taliban also called on Islamabad to "cease the arrest of Afghan refugees," warning that the detentions could "adversely impact bilateral relations."

Why It's Important: The arrests appear to be part of a broader crackdown on the millions of Afghan refugees and migrants residing in Pakistan.

Late last year, Pakistani law enforcement arrested around 1,500 Afghan refugees and migrants, including women and children, in the southeastern province of Sindh. Some were later freed, while others were deported.

The authorities said the Afghan nationals in Sindh were charged with violating the Foreigners Act, a Pakistani law amended in 2016 that empowers authorities to deport foreigners lacking proper documentation. Courts can also fine or imprison foreigners for violating the law.

Islamabad warned foreigners that they would be deported or imprisoned for up to three years if they failed to renew their visas by the end of 2022.

Over 600,000 Afghans have fled to Pakistan since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021, joining the several million Afghan refugees and migrants already residing in the country for decades.

Some of the new arrivals have remained in Pakistan because of delays in getting visas to Western nations. Most have said they cannot afford the hundreds of dollars needed to renew their Pakistani visas.

Moniza Kakar, a local attorney assisting Afghan refugees in Sindh, said the Pakistani police are stepping up their arrests of Afghans. "Even now, there are more than 200 Afghan prisoners in Sindh prisons," she recently told Radio Azadi.

What's Next: Despite repeated calls by the Taliban, Pakistan has continued to arrest Afghans in recent days. Islamabad has also been criticized by international NGOs for its treatment of Afghans fleeing Taliban persecution and a devastating humanitarian crisis.

Observers have said Pakistan is using the issue of Afghan refugees to put pressure on the Taliban. Islamabad has repeatedly called on the Taliban to expel the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an extremist group that is based in Afghanistan. The group has intensified its cross-border attacks on Pakistani security forces since the Afghan Taliban gained power.

The Week's Best Stories

Deadly attacks targeting Taliban officials in Afghanistan's northeastern Badakhshan Province have left residents fearful of even stepping out to go to the mosque. The fresh attacks have raised questions about the Taliban's ability to impose its authority and the potential for Afghanistan's northeast to become a recruiting ground for the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) extremist group.

Zhwandoon TV is the latest independent media outlet to come under pressure in Afghanistan, where the Taliban has tried to stamp out any form of dissent. The owner of the private Pashto-language station recently accused the militant group of trying to close down the channel. The Taliban has intensified its crackdown on independent reporters and media outlets over the past year, according to Afghan media watchdogs.

What To Keep An Eye On

An Iranian official in the holy Shi'ite city of Qom has said members of Iran's sizeable community of Afghan refugees and migrants risk being deported if they fail to comply with the country’s hijab law.

Ali Akbar Zarei, an immigration official in Qom, told state TV on June 13 that Afghan nationals would first receive a warning. Repeat offenders, he said, would be cut off from "all social services” and could be forced to leave the country.

Why It's Important: The Iranian authorities have intensified their efforts to enforce the hijab law as more women flout the law.

Iranian women have been emboldened by the monthslong antiestablishment protests that erupted in September following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini soon after she was arrested by Iran’s morality police for improperly wearing the head scarf.

Afghans in Iran told Radio Azadi that scores of their compatriots were arrested for participating in the nationwide protests.

Afghan refugees and migrants have come under growing pressure in Iran after last month’s deadly border clashes between Iranian border guards and Taliban fighters.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

Until next time,

Mustafa Sarwar

If you enjoyed this briefing and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe here. It will be sent to your inbox every Friday.

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    Mustafa Sarwar

    Mustafa Sarwar is a senior news editor for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, one of the most popular and trusted media outlets in Afghanistan. Nearly half of the country's adult audience accesses Azadi's reporting on a weekly basis.

Radio Azadi is RFE/RL's Dari and Pashto-language public service news outlet for Afghanistan. Every Friday, in our newsletter, Azadi Briefing, one of our journalists will share their analysis of the week’s most important issues and explain why they matter.

To subscribe, click here.