Pakistan OKs visas for Japan-bound Afghan evacuees without passports

The Pakistani government has decided to issue visas to the Afghans that Japan wants to evacuate from Afghanistan, even if they arrive at the border without valid passports or other travel documents, according to Pakistani officials.

The policy is in line with the decision Islamabad has made in principle to grant visas to all Afghans who are being sponsored by an international organization or a state for transfer to a third country.

Japan sent Air Self-Defense Force aircraft to Afghanistan’s capital Kabul in August to help evacuate about 500 people, most of them Afghan staff of its embassy and the Japan International Cooperation Agency’s local office as well as their family members.

But none of the Afghans was able to board those planes, and as the air evacuation mission ended with the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan at the end of August, some of them have started leaving the country on their own by land.

The main route taken by those Afghans is through the Torkham border checkpoint in Pakistan’s northwest. Of those who entered Pakistan on their own, 10 have already moved to Japan with the Japanese government’s assistance.

“It is progressing slowly, but gradually,” one Interior Ministry official said Sunday.

The developments followed weeks of negotiations with Pakistani authorities. The thorny issue at these discussions was that many of the family members of the embassy and JICA staff lacked valid passports and other travel documents.

Even before the Taliban took control of Kabul on Aug. 15, people applied for their passports in droves in hopes of leaving the country, but they remained difficult to obtain.

The issue was resolved by what another ministry official said was Pakistan’s decision to “allow entry of Afghan nationals, even those without passports or other identity documents, into Pakistan as long as they are sponsored by an international organization or a third country for transfer to another country.”

The decision applies to organizations like the World Bank and other countries that wanted to move out their Afghan staff.

Under the policy, Afghan evacuees are issued a 30-day visa by Pakistani authorities on arrival at the Torkham border checkpoint. During their stay in Pakistan, the evacuees’ sponsoring agency or country will arrange for further travel and the provision of necessary documents.

During his meeting with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on the sidelines of a U.N. General Assembly session in New York on Thursday, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi thanked Pakistan for its cooperation in enabling Afghan staff of the Japanese Embassy and JICA office to safely depart Afghanistan, and requested continued support.

Qureshi said Pakistan would spare no efforts in their evacuation, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

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