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Pakistan: UNHCR and IOM Report Massive Spike in Detention Rates

Pakistan is one of the world’s largest refugee-hosting countries, with the majority of refugees coming from Afghanistan. The country has not implemented a national asylum system and it is not a party to the UN Refugee Convention. There have been numerous reports of refugees being arrested during raids, arbitrarily detained, and summarily deported. In 2023, the Ministry of Interior implemented a new “Illegal Foreigners’ Repatriation Plan,” which led to a sharp increase in the numbers of people detained and deported from the country, from a reported 997 migration-related detainees in 2022 to more than 30,000 in 2023.

In October 2023, the GDP reported that Pakistan’s Interior Minister had issued a statement after the adoption of the new “Illegal Foreigners” plan declaring that all undocumented Afghans had to leave the country by 1 November. The announcement came after years of increasing numbers of Afghan arrivals in the wake of the Taliban takeover in 2021, with the population increasing to more than 3.7 million refugees by 2023, roughly a third of whom are undocumented. Those who failed to voluntarily leave, said the Interior Minister, would be deported. “If they do not go … then all the law enforcement agencies in the provinces or federal government will be utilised to deport them,” he said. The Pakistani government has also blamed Afghan nationals for a spate of violence in the country,  alleging that Afghan nationals were responsible for 14 of the 24 suicide bombings witnessed in the country this year.

In response to this mass crackdown on undocmented foriengers in the country, UNHCR and the IOM began systematically documenting and reporting arrest and detention data in Pakistan, published in UNHCR-IOM Flash Updates. Below we provide excerpts from the 7 June 2024 Flash Update.


7 June 2024


In response to the Ministry of Interior’s (MoI) decision of 26 September 2023 to enact an “Illegal Foreigners’ Repatriation Plan”, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency and IOM, the UN Migration Agency, have collated their data on the arrest, detention, and deportation of Proof of Registration (PoR) holders, Afghan Citizen Card (ACC) holders, and undocumented Afghan nationals as well as on the outflows of Afghan nationals at the Torkham and Chaman border crossing points, to better understand the protection environment and movements of Afghan nationals returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan.

While the Government of Pakistan has yet to halt the “IFRP”, the rate of arrest, detention, deportation, and returns has decreased significantly since its peak in October and November 2023. Furthermore, on 26 April 2024, the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) issued a notification that the validity of the POR card has been extended until 30 June 2024.


It is important to note that prior to 2023, there was no data collected on the arrest and detention of ACC holders or undocumented Afghan nationals. Since January 2023, IOM has started to collect this data, which should be considered indicative at this point. The figures, particularly of undocumented Afghan nationals, should be considered underreported.

  • The period from 19 May to 1 June 2024 saw the overall reported rate of arrest and detention increase by 39 per cent, compared to the period from 5 to 18 May 2024.
  • From 19 May to 1 June 2024, ACC holders and undocumented Afghans represented 92 per cent of the total rate of arrests and detentions.
  • Since the start of October 2023, the overall reported rate of arrest and detention remains highest for the province of Balochistan. During the period from 19 May to 1 June 2024, approximately 85 per cent of the reported arrests and detentions occurred in Balochistan.
  • Across Pakistan, the top three districts for arrest and detention between 1 January and 1 June 2024 are Chagai (Balochistan), Pishin (Balochistan), and Karachi (Sindh).


  • During the last two weeks, UNHCR and IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) estimate 21,031 Afghans returned through the Torkham, Ghulam Khan (located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Chaman, Badini and Bahramcha (located in Balochistan) border crossing points to Afghanistan. 
  • Cumulatively, from 15 September 2023 to 1 June 2024, 610,751 individuals have returned. 
  • The number of returns in the last two weeks (19 May – 1 June; 21,031) increased by 43 per cent compared to returns in the two weeks prior to that (5 May – 18 May; 14,692). The number of returns during this reporting period has seen an increase compared to the previous report and continues to surpass the weekly return figures recorded since January 2024.
  • Most of the returnees were undocumented Afghans (89%), followed by PoR holders (9%) and ACC holders (2%). Majority of the POR returns are facilitated by UNHCR.
  • Vulnerable persons including chronically ill people, elderly individuals, persons with disabilities, and others account for 3 per cent of the population.
  • Fear of arrest (89%) remains the most common reason to return to Afghanistan among undocumented/ACC holders while PoR holders cite social economic challenges.
  • Returnees were most likely to return from Quetta (20%) and Peshawar (17%) in Pakistan and intend to go to Nangarhar (25%), Kandahar (23%) and Kabul (17%) in Afghanistan. 

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