UN urges Pakistan to halt expelling Afghans in winter

STORY: The U.N. refugee agency on Wednesday urged Pakistan to halt the deportation of undocumented Afghan refugees during the harsh winter season.

Babar Baloch is the UNHCR regional spokesperson.

"UNHCR is calling upon the government of Pakistan to halt these mass numbers of returns during this harsh season of winter because the cold in Afghanistan is really deadly and it can take lives."

Thousands of Afghans have gone underground in Pakistan to avoid deportation, fearing for their lives if they returned to Afghanistan – now run by the Islamist Taliban.

In the southern port city of Karachi, where hundreds of thousands of Afghans live, police carried out door-to-door searches in refugee settlements on Tuesday.

BALOCH: "Also what we have seen since then that the number of arrests, detentions and also mistreatment has also exponentially gone up. This has been on the rise and that's why we are making an appeal that any treatment of Afghans has to be a humane"

Pakistan says harassment of documented refugees is rare and it is taking action against perpetrators.

The U.N. agency has said the Afghans' return should be voluntary and that Pakistan should identify vulnerable individuals who need international protection.

Pakistan is home to over 4 million Afghan migrants and refugees, about 1.7 million of whom are undocumented.

Many came after the Taliban retook Afghanistan in 2021. A large number have been present since the 1979 Soviet invasion.

Islamabad said last month it would expel over a million undocumented refugees, mostly Afghans, amid a dispute with Kabul over charges it harbors anti-Pakistan militants.

Over 370,000 Afghans have fled Pakistan since Oct. 1.

Islamabad has not entertained calls by international organizations and refugee agencies to reconsider its deportation plans.