Over half a million undocumented Afghans return from Pakistan in mass exodus

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More than 500,000 Afghans have fled Pakistan in the four months since Islamabad ordered undocumented migrants to leave or face arrest, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Monday.

According to the latest figures reported by the UN migration agency, 500,200 Afghans left Pakistan between September 15, 2023 and January 13, 2024.

Most rushed to the border in the days leading up to a November 1 exit deadline Islamabad set for the 1.7 million Afghans it said were living illegally in Pakistan, and as police opened dozens of holding centers.

“Since the initial peak around November 1, the number of individuals crossing these official border points have consistently decreased but remains higher than pre-September 15th,” an IOM statement said.

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Pakistan defended the crackdown by pointing to security concerns in its regions bordering Afghanistan and pressure on its struggling economy.

“Some Afghans forced to return may be at risk of persecution, arbitrary arrest and detention and/or torture or ill-treatment,” the UN’s Afghan mission said in a report on Monday.

Meanwhile, the busiest border crossing between the two countries remained closed for the tenth day running in a dispute over document rules for commercial drivers.

The row centers on demands for drivers from both sides to have visas and passports - documents many Afghans do not have - as Pakistan cracks down on cross-border movements.

More than 400 trucks were stranded on the Pakistan side of the Torkham crossing on Monday, according to a border official who asked not to be named.

Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have grown increasingly fraught in recent months, with Islamabad accusing the Taliban government of failing to root out militants staging attacks in Pakistan from their soil.

Kabul has always rejected the allegations.

Millions of Afghans fleeing conflict have poured into Pakistan over the past four decades, including some 600,000 since the Taliban ousted the US-backed government and imposed its harsh interpretation of Islamic law.

Some of the Afghans crossing into Afghanistan as a result of Islamabad’s eviction scheme were entering the country for the first time, having lived their whole lives in Pakistan.

Upon arrival, migrants have received modest assistance from the government and NGOs in a country contending with one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

Read more:

Afghans in limbo as Pakistan continues to deport refugees

Pakistan ignores calls to reconsider Afghan expulsions, adds border centers

Pakistan evictions of Afghan immigrants ‘unacceptable’: Taliban

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