Trucks crossing into Kyber Pakhtunkhwa at Torkham, from 2011. Over 300,000 Afghans have been forcible repatriated through this crossing in recent weeks. Wikimedia Commons

Hundreds of Thousands of Afghans Are Being Deported From Pakistan

One of the core principles of humanitarian journalism is that “newsworthiness” is driven by the moral equivalence of all lives. A crisis deserves coverage because of the impact it has on peoples’ lives — no matter who the people are, or where they live. This leads a small number of us humanitarian journalists to routinely and deliberately focus on stories that many conventional journalists overlook.

On the other hand, the Israel-Palestine crisis and catastrophe in Gaza is getting substantial coverage in western media because of the cultural, historical and political proximity of this crisis to the United States and Europe. To be sure, this is a major international story (and one we’ve covered exhaustively). But coverage of the Israel-Palestine crisis—or the conflict in Ukraine for that matter — should not come at the expense of other important global stories.

One such story is the forcible repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Afghans who have been evicted from Pakistan in recent weeks. An unprecedented crackdown against “illegal immigrants” has forced over 300,000 Afghans — many who have lived in Pakistan for decades — to leave for Afghanistan. The government says it is targeting about 1.7 million Afghans in Pakistan for expulsion.

This story is getting some attention, including this excellent New York Times article by Zia ur-Rehman in Karachi last week. But it is nowhere near the kind of wall-to-wall coverage that otherwise might be expected if a population equivalent in size to an American city like Pittsburgh or Cincinnati were suddenly forced to relocate to a country controlled by a radical, human rights abusing de-facto government. And this happened in just a matter of weeks — with over a million more people potentially on the way.

For the podcast today, I speak with Samira Sayed-Rahman, director of policy advocacy and communications for The International Rescue Committee in Afghanistan which is running humanitarian relief programs, including in a massive tent city that was newly erected on the Afghan side of the border. We kick off discussing how so many Afghans came to be living in Pakistan over the decades. She then explains: why Pakistan is suddenly cracking down on Afghan migrants, what fate awaits those who have fled to Afghanistan, and how the fact that the Taliban are the de-factor authorities in Afghanistan is complicating international relief efforts.

The episode is freely available on all podcast listening platform. This link will take you there.