(CTN News) – Western diplomats and the UN have expressed their strong disapproval of Pakistan’s recent decision to impose significant exit fees on Afghan refugees who have fled persecution by the Taliban.
This move, which is considered unprecedented, specifically targets refugees who are awaiting resettlement in Western countries and requires them to pay approximately $830 (£660) per person. Pakistan’s decision comes in the wake of their crackdown on undocumented foreigners, with a deadline of 1 November for around 2 million unregistered Afghans to leave the country.
Following the deadline, Pakistan initiated mass deportations of undocumented Afghans. Since the fall of Kabul in August 2021, thousands of Afghans without proper documentation or with expired visas have been residing in Pakistan, eagerly hoping to rebuild their lives in Western nations.
Many of these individuals have previously worked with Western governments and organizations, making them eligible for resettlement on humanitarian grounds.
The US government has announced its plan to resettle nearly 25,000 Afghans within its borders, while the UK has committed to resettling 20,000 individuals.
However, the imposition of an exit permit fee in Pakistan has raised concerns among five senior Western diplomats. They have expressed their shock at this unprecedented fee, stating that it is unappealing to profit from refugees.
The issue has been brought up by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization of Migration (IOM), as well as in various capitals and headquarters. It is believed that all diplomats have conveyed their concerns to their Pakistani counterparts.
During a briefing by the interior and foreign ministries, western officials were informed about the fee, and although it was initially set at $10,000 per person, it has now been reduced to $830.
The diplomat expressed their frustration with Pakistan’s exit permit fee,
Which they deemed absurd and bizarre. They questioned the justification for the fee and suggested that it was simply a way for Pakistan to make money.
Another diplomat added that the requirement to pay the fee via credit card was particularly problematic for Afghan refugees who may not have access to such resources.
They called for a cooperative approach to help refugees and hoped that Pakistan would assist in this effort. However, Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesperson stated that there were no plans to change the policy, citing the individuals’ overstay in their visas and lack of documents.
They urged concerned countries to expedite the visa and approval process to allow Babar Baloch, a UNHCR representative, to call for more information to facilitate refugee resettlement. Some Western countries provided refugee names without additional details, but a diplomat clarified they were working to provide the requested information within legal restrictions.
Baloch also mentioned collaboration with the Pakistani government to address exit fines and visa fees for refugees in the resettlement program. The UNHCR advocates for exempting refugees from these requirements.
Resettlement is crucial for vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers. Note: This article was updated on November 22, 2023, correcting the initial proposed exit fee and removing a reference to the UK High Commission.