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Tens of thousands of Afghans flee Pakistan

PESHAWAR (AFP) – More than 10,000 Afghans living in Pakistan rushed to the borders yesterday, just hours before a deadline for 1.7 million people to leave Pakistan voluntarily or face arrest and deportation.

The Pakistan government has said it would begin arresting undocumented Afghans and taking them to new holding centres from today, from where they will be processed and forcibly returned to Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, the Taleban government has imposed a harsh interpretation of Islamic law since seizing power in August 2021.

While hundreds of thousands of Afghans are estimated to have fled to Pakistan since the Taleban’s return to power, millions more had already settled there over decades of conflict, making Pakistan the host of one of the world’s largest refugee populations.

Despite a gruelling economic crisis in Afghanistan, Afghans in Pakistan are being forced to return to their home country.

Afghan refugees arrive in trucks to cross the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in Chaman. PHOTO: AFP

“Thousands of Afghan refugees are waiting for their turn in vehicles, lorries, and trucks, and the number continues to grow,” a senior government official at the Torkham border in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Irshad Mohmand told AFP.

“More than 10,000 refugees have gathered since morning.” In Afghanistan, the Taleban government has qualified Pakistan’s policy as “harassment”.

Thousands more Afghans are waiting at the southern Chaman crossing in Balochistan province, officials said – with numbers at both borders expected to double.

Despite huge pressure at the border, a government official based in Peshawar near the border said the holding centres would still open as planned from today.

“This procedure does not require much time as they don’t possess passports and visas and don’t need to pass through immigration. In simple words, they are passing through a procedure of deportation,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.

But some Afghans are determined to try to find the way to remain in Pakistan.