Politicos move Supreme Court after govt sends illegal foreigners packing

Petitioners say decision to expel illegal refugees exceeds caretaker government's mandate

Maryam Nawaz
Afghan refugees arrive in a truck at a holding centre as they prepare to depart for Afghanistan, in Landi Kotal on November 1, 2023. — AFP
Afghan refugees arrive in a truck at a holding centre as they prepare to depart for Afghanistan, in Landi Kotal on November 1, 2023. — AFP

  • Expelling illegal migrants exceeds caretakers' mandate, says plea.
  • It demands illegal migrants not be harassed or expelled forcefully.
  • Authorities have started rounding up undocumented foreigners.

ISLAMABAD: A number of politicians have petitioned the Supreme Court seeking the judiciary's intervention against the caretaker government's move to deport illegal foreign nationals, including Afghans.

Islamabad issued an ultimatum in early October to 1.7 million Afghans it says were living illegally in Pakistan: leave by November 1 or face arrest and expulsion.

Pakistan Peoples Party's (PPP) Farhatullah Babar, Jamaat-e-Islami's Senator Mushtaq Ahmed, National Democratic Movement's (NDM) Mohsin Dawar, and others have filed a plea in the top court, urging it to invoke Article 184(3) — suo motu.

The federation, Islamabad Capital Territory, all four provinces, United National High Commission for Refugees, and relevant ministries and departments have been made parties to the case.

The petitioners, in their plea, mentioned that the caretakers had launched a mass deportation drive against “illegal immigrants” without providing any robust mechanism for distinguishing refugees, asylum-seekers, and birthright citizens.

"This decision, attributed to the apex committee of the caretaker government, is causing a massive violation of fundamental rights of around 4.4 million persons of Afghan origin who are for the time being in Pakistan," the plea mentioned.

"It is also leading to a deterioration in the citizen-state relationship of all the 240 million people living in Pakistan; once state officials get accustomed to indiscriminately shoving human beings in containers and throwing them out, there is no limit to where it will end."

Not only that, the petitioners said, the present decision amounts to a reversal of Pakistan’s 45-year-old policy of extending hospitality to refugees, asylum-seekers, and even unregistered immigrants — a strategic decision that falls completely beyond the limited constitutional mandate of the caretaker government.

They demanded that the state and its instrumentalities be barred from detaining, forcefully deporting, or otherwise harassing anyone who was born in Pakistan and has a claim to birth-right citizenship in accordance with Section 4 of the Citizenship Act, 1951.

The authorities have started rounding up undocumented foreigners ahead of Wednesday's midnight deadline for them to leave or face expulsion.

Afghans have made up the bulk of around 140,000 such immigrants to have voluntarily left so far, officials said, some of whom have lived in Pakistan for decades.

Of the more than 4 million Afghans living in Pakistan, the government estimates 1.7 million are undocumented.

Many fled Afghanistan during its decades of internal conflict since the late 1970s, while the Taliban takeover after the US withdrawal in 2021 led to another exodus.

But Pakistan has taken a stringent stance, saying Afghan nationals have been behind militant attacks, smuggling and other crimes in the country.