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KARACHI: Abdul, an Afghan migrant in Karachi, hasn’t been able to sleep properly for weeks. At nearly 50, he faces deportation to the country he fled as a child, and losing the life he has built in Pakistan.

“I don’t know if I have the strength to start all over again,” said Abdul, who runs a business buying scrap materials collected mainly by Afghan waste pickers, thousands of whom are set to be expelled from Pakistan due to a crackdown on undocumented migrants.

Many hurried to leave before a Nov. 1 deadline, or are lying low to avoid being rounded up by police, bringing Abdul’s business to a virtual standstill.

“For the last two months, there is no business,” Abdul told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, asking not to use his full name, as he ran a string of prayer beads anxiously through his fingers.

From earning 30,000 Pakistani rupees ($104) a day, it is now down to 5,000 rupees.

As he considers leaving for Kunduz, the city in northern Afghanistan where he was born, he said it will be like going to live in a foreign country.

More than 280,000 Afghan nationals have left since Pakistan ordered all illegal immigrants, including more than 1.5 million Afghan nationals, to leave the country by the start of the month or be deported, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

The expulsion drive has driven relations between the neighbours to a new low, with Islamabad reiterating its claim that militants use Afghan soil to plan and carry out attacks in Pakistan.

Kabul says Pakistan’s security is a domestic problem.

No crackdown on Afghan immigrants launched: Bugti

Living from waste

Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan with a population of more than 20 million, is home to hundreds of thousands of Afghans, many of whom make a living as waste pickers - one of the few options available to undocumented migrants.

“They’ve been trapped in this work because of the government’s apathetic policy towards Afghan refugees,” said Shiza Aslam, research head at the Circular Plastic Institute at the Karachi School of Business and Leadership.

There are at least 43,000 of the informal garbage collectors working in Karachi, most of them Afghans, Aslam said, warning of a “public health disaster” if they leave.

Their departure will also set back efforts to recycle more of the city’s waste, said Shoaib Munshi, a member of the Pakistan Plastic Manufacturers Association.

“Garbage transfer stations will be overloaded and the garbage will flow onto roads and nalas (drains) and more burning will take place,” Munshi said “It will cause a huge setback to the circular economy,” he added, urging the city government to act quickly to fill the gap left by the migrant workers.

An official at the provincial solid waste management board said plans were in place to plug the labour gap. “We had a plan in place long before the deportation of Afghans was announced,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The recyclers can now buy from us directly.”

‘Ghost town’

With the Taliban in power, some Afghan migrants fear deportation to their native land, particularly those from persecuted groups such as members of the predominantly Shia community Hazara community.

Others think they are simply better off in Pakistan, the only home many younger Afghans have ever known, and do not want to leave.

“Our relatives are telling us not to come but we have little choice,” said 20-year-old Moosa, who was born in Pakistan and has never been to Afghanistan. He also asked not to use his full name.

Until a month ago, he and his brother were able to earn about 120,000 rupees per month by sifting through the garbage and selling anything of value for recycling, such as cardboard, metal and plastic bottles.

The brothers both carry Afghan Citizen Cards, a government document that lets them reside legally in Pakistan and access public services, as well as allowing them to work in the informal economy.

Afghan refugees not involved in Pakistan’s security problems: Taliban

But even Afghans living legally in Pakistan fear they could be forced to leave.

Recent comments by Balochistan caretaker minister Jan Achakzai, who said registered Afghans would also be deported under the government’s plan, have caused further alarm among migrants.

After both were detained by the police, his parents decided the family must pack up and head for their ancestral village in Kunduz, voluntarily, within days.

“What I’m truly going to miss most is this neighbourhood and my friends,” Moosa said, gesturing towards the rundown area behind Karachi’s Al Asif Square, where many of the city’s Afghan population lives.

Many Afghan families have already left, he said.

“It’s a ghost town now,” he said, adding that he feared life would be harder in Afghanistan, especially during the cold winter months. Gul, 60, a former waste-picker, voiced similar fears.

“Those who have gone tell us they are living in tents and in miserable conditions,” he said. “We have no home there.”

‘Money-making racket’

The deportation plan has also led to increased harassment by police, at least 25 Afghan migrants and rights advocates told Context. After his brief detention six weeks ago, Moosa said he was released after paying the police who detained him 20,000 rupees.

A day later, his brother was picked up by the police and freed after paying 5,000 rupees. “Harassing and hauling the poor Afghans is a huge money-making racket for the police,” said Moniza Kakar, a Karachi-based human rights lawyer.

Asked to comment, Syed Asad Raza, a senior police officer in Karachi, said the allegations of bribery were “completely baseless”, adding that while there may have been a few isolated cases, the issue has “been blown out of proportion”.

As Moosa and his family prepare to leave, he said he was angry that they had not been given enough time to dispose of the assets they have spent years accumulating.

They recently sold their house, a fast-food stall, six goats and a new fridge for a fraction of what they were worth, he said.

“Everyone is taking advantage of our plight,” he said.

Comments

200 characters
Usman Nov 21, 2023 11:30am
They are counting there financial.losses while we were counting dead bodies because these afghan supported and hid these terrorists.
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Mahboob ul haq Nov 21, 2023 11:42am
When our true leader imran khan comes to power, this brutality will be stopped. My Afghan brothers this injustice will be set right.
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Shahzad Nov 21, 2023 12:38pm
Most of these garbage collectors are involved in illegal activities including but not limited to stealing car parts like full dashboards, entertainment systems and side mirrors etc and selling them in black market. We should not show sympathy to these people.
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Dexter Nov 21, 2023 04:21pm
@Shahzad, stop giving a sweeping statement about any immigrant community. You're making it sound like there will be no crime after this. Rather than focusing on how to improve security, we keep looking for excuses to pass on the burden. These people deserve respect. Who do we have on our side on the international front. This will add to the resentment.
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shafaat shafi Nov 21, 2023 06:11pm
@Mahboob ul haq , so what u want?all people in Afghanistan should come and live in Pakistan and let Afghanistan become manless land
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hussain mazhar Nov 21, 2023 06:15pm
Afghanis must go back to afghanistan. They are the main source of terrorism in Pakistan.
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Kamran Rauf Nov 21, 2023 07:04pm
These waste pickers should not be spared and sent back to Afghanistan as soon as possible. Even documented Afghans should also be deported back to their country. We can't trust these Afghanis.
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Kamran Rauf Nov 21, 2023 07:31pm
These waste pickers should not be spared and sent back to Afghanistan. Even documented Afghans should also be deported back to their country. We can't trust the Afghan people.
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Rana Nov 21, 2023 11:35pm
Crime Mafia going back from where they came Afghanistan
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ISZ Nov 22, 2023 01:25am
@Shahzad , So as Pakistani, those ask for bribe to issue a birth certificate, kidnap people and sell their idneys, the list of very wrong. Khanaas in your brian that needs to be corrected. idiot.
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ISZ Nov 22, 2023 01:26am
@Kamran Rauf , yur are 100% an indian troll, starring discord between two countries.
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Joe Nov 22, 2023 09:23am
Why push poor across border? Where is humanity?
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IMTIAZ CASSUM AGBOATWALA Nov 22, 2023 10:20am
The waste pickers were doing a service to Pakistan. Where the govt agencies had failed in their duties of picking up waste , these poor souls had been doing a humble job.
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Sajid Nov 22, 2023 12:55pm
I think this is fair to send them back to their country ,as they have lived in Pakistan as refugee, now Afghanistan becoming a good state as well financially,
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Amigo Nov 22, 2023 06:59pm
BR thanks for publishing this search report. Public comments are valuable. Regards
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E Nov 22, 2023 07:16pm
This is only being done because they belong to a certain ethnic background. Same would never be done to any other ethnicity. Blaming immigrants would not work. We can't blame people who don't take any benefits do the jobs no one wants have not been involved in any crimes against their hosts. I think gov of Pakistan should follow the rules and give nationalities to those born here as per LAW of the land. The prople have been demonised in war on terror initially everyone was shown wearing certain dress code when showing terrorist this is dehumanising. Be careful before someone starts dams in afghanistan and stop water down stream. This is unethical inlawful and unfair to say the least. What goes around comes around don't just celebrate yet.
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Saqib Nov 22, 2023 07:20pm
Pakistan will have to sell all its public assets and still won't be able to pay for the damages it directly caused to the Afghanistan in the past four dacades!!!
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Zaman Nov 22, 2023 07:36pm
All afghanis, iranis, burmese, bengalis must be thrown out of Pakistan, weather legal or illegal.
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Aamir Nov 23, 2023 09:19am
What Pakistan has done for them they should ever be thankful to us. Now it's time to return to Afghanistan. Good bye
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Lioness Nov 23, 2023 09:13pm
@Kamran Rauf , your hatred is purely evil. You are definitely an Indian arse typing from a call centre in Some God forsaken city of India. while on a break from playing the role of Martin from Birmingham serving Barclays customers. Shut up and sit down blood!
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Tahir Nov 24, 2023 12:58am
The action against Afghan nationals living in Pakistan for last forty years is underway which seems I'll planned and being executed in very hurry.
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Jafar Siddiqui Nov 25, 2023 06:05am
I am surprised at the ignorant hate towards Afghans. It is always the same. It is Easy to blame someone else (Afghans) for the nations thieves and evils instead of looking at the mess Pakistan is in. I think even the most crooked Afghan is better than the thieves and murderers who run the country and the criminal Police that is supposed to protect people.
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Jj Nov 28, 2023 10:21am
Visa dain koi work permit.dain.kuch tu krain legalize krny kiye waisy poverty tu Pakistana.b bht ha bheek mangny walon ko Lago na is tarh k kamon ma .... Had harmi ki adat par gai ha hamri qom ko
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