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More than 1 million Afghan refugees have been deported or voluntarily returned to their country from neighboring Pakistan and Iran this year in the largest influx of returnees since the fall of the Taliban regime, the International Organization for Migration said Wednesday.

While over 390,000 Afghan refugees voluntarily returned under a U.N. repatriation initiative, nearly 620,000 undocumented Afghans came from Pakistan and Iran, which have deported tens of thousands of refugees in recent months. “This is the highest level since 2002,” said Matthew Graydon, a spokesman for the IOM's Afghanistan office, referring to the 1 million figure.

In 2002, nearly 2 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan and Iran returned home as the fall of the Taliban regime raised the prospect of an end to decades of conflict that had forced millions of Afghans into exile around the world. In all, between 2002 and 2014, 5.8 million Afghan refugees returned home.

The number of returnees leveled off in recent years and 2015 saw a mass exodus out of the country, as nearly 200,000 Afghans fled to Europe amid growing insecurity and rising unemployment.

The tide of migration has reversed this year, however, and refugee advocates are warning that the return of over 1 million Afghans, combined with over 1 million internal refugees, threatens to create a crisis for a government struggling to fight a reinvigorated Taliban insurgency.

The influx "makes a very large figure for a country which is in a volatile situation when it comes to security and also in terms of economic opportunities for those to be reabsorbed in a very short time," Laurence Hart, IOM's chief of mission in Kabul, said during a visit to Washington last week.

There are 1.3 million registered and 1 million undocumented Afghans living in Pakistan. Iran hosts a little under 1 million registered Afghan refugees and nearly 2 million undocument refugees and Afghan passport holders. Most of the undocumented refugees came from Iran, which has stepped up its deportation of Afghans in recent years. IOM data shows that Iran has deported 174,000 Afghans so far this year, while Pakistan has deported 22,000.

Pakistan had set a November 15 deadline for the undocumented Afghan refugees and migrants to either register or face deportation. Islamabad, however, appears to have allowed the deadline to pass without taking action, and Graydon said the IOM is urging an extension through the winter. Pakistan’s ministry of states and frontier regions has submitted a proposal to the Cabinet to begin the registration of all undocumented Afghans living in Pakistan, Graydon said.

 
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