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Since the Taliban-takeover in August 2021, Afghanistan has been experiencing a severe humanitarian crisis, and a significant deterioration in human rights.

Hundreds of thousands of Afghans have fled to neighbouring Pakistan and Iran in response, adding to the millions of Afghans who have arrived in both countries since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

Situation in Pakistan and Iran

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Pakistan hosts an estimated 3 million Afghans, and Iran over 4.5 million.

The UNHCR states that since 15 September 2023, over 400,000 individuals have crossed into Afghanistan through Pakistan’s border crossing points.

On 3 October 2023, Pakistan’s caretaker government ordered all illegal immigrants to leave the country by 1 November or face deportation. It cited the alleged involvement of Afghans in terrorist attacks in Pakistan, as part of the reason for the move. Since 1 November, Pakistan has been detaining large numbers of undocumented Afghans and then transporting them direct to the border, according to International Crisis Group.

Human Rights organisations have expressed concerns over the treatment of Afghans by the Pakistani authorities. NGOs have expressed concerns that Pakistan’s Government’s policy of not allowing deportees to bring significant sums of money, or other property with them means that almost all have been plunged into poverty upon crossing the border; and that the Afghan authorities are not in a position to support them.

On 27 September Iran also announced plans to deport Afghans who were living in the country “illegally”. Iranian authorities say over 400,000 Afghans have been expelled so far this year.

UK Government actions and response

Some Afghans applying for permission to come to the UK travelled to Iran or Pakistan to attend a visa application centre or pending arrangements for their travel to the UK

Many have unexpectedly spent prolonged lengths of time in these countries. This is partly due to a policy introduced by the UK Government in November 2022 not to bring eligible people to the UK if they don’t have long term accommodation in place.

There were news reports that in Pakistan since 1 October deportation order, Afghans who were found eligible to come the UK were arrested during immigration enforcement actions by the Pakistani authorities, but were later released after intervention by the UK High Commission in Islamabad.

The UK Government have now said that the Pakistan Government have agreed not to arrest Afghans who are eligible for the UK immigration schemes.

In late October 2023 UK Government ministers approved a change of policy, authorising Afghans to be brought to the UK from Pakistan and Iran as a matter of urgency regardless of whether long-term accommodation was in place.

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