By Mushtaq Ali and Mohammad Yunus Yawar
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) -Pakistan opened more border centres on Friday to speed up the return of tens of thousands of undocumented Afghans, an official said, two days after a deadline to leave or face expulsion expired and ignoring pleas to give the plan a rethink.
Pakistan has brushed off calls from the United Nations, rights groups and Western embassies to reconsider expelling more than a million of 4 million Afghans in the country, saying they had been involved in Islamist militant attacks and crimes that undermined the security of the country.
Afghanistan denies the accusations.
The U.N. refugee agency, the International Organisation for Migration and the U.N. Children’s Fund on Friday expressed concern for the safety of children and families affected by the expulsion, saying a humanitarian crisis was unfolding with winter on the way.
Mullah Hassan Akhund, prime minister in Afghanistan’s Taliban-led administration, also expressed reservations.
“It is 100% against all principles, come and talk face to face,” he said in a video-recorded statement.
Facilities at the main northwestern border crossing of Torkham have been increased three times to cater for the rising number of returnees, said Abdul Nasir Khan, deputy commissioner for Khyber district.
“Everything is normal now as the returnees no longer need to wait in queues for hours,” he told Reuters.
Those arriving in Afghanistan complained of hardships.
“We spent three days on border in Pakistan. We had very bad situation,” said Mohammad Ismael Rafi, 55, who said he lived for 22 years in the southwestern Pakistani border town of Chaman where he had a retail business.
“Thank God that we have arrived back to our country,” he said. It took him six days to leave his home in Pakistan with his 16 family members and belongings to reach a makeshift tent village on the other side of the border.
Rafi accused Pakistani officials of taking bribes, a charge Islamabad denies.
Afghan schoolboy Sarfraz, 16, who goes by one name, said he and his father had never visited Afghanistan and did not want to go there now. His grandfather migrated to Pakistan decades ago.
“Where should we go?” he asked in response to a Reuters query in northwestern Peshawar. “There is no work there. We’re poor people. We are being forced. We have to leave.”
The Taliban administration in Afghanistan, scrambling to cope with the sudden influx, has set up temporary transit camps where food and medical assistance will be provided.
Refugee groups have reported chaotic and desperate scenes at the camps.
Pakistani authorities started rounding up foreigners, most of them Afghans, hours before the deadline.
Many of the migrants fled Afghanistan during the decades of armed conflict since the late 1970s, while the Islamist Taliban’s takeover after the withdrawal of U.S.-led coalition forces in 2021 led to another exodus.
Khan, the official, said 19,744 Afghans had crossed the Torkham border on Thursday, 147,949 in total since the government announced the deadline.
More than 50,000 have left through southwestern Pakistani border crossing at Chaman, the minister for information in Balochistan, Jan Achakzai, told Reuters.
Pakistani authorities said they were open to delaying repatriation for people with health or other issues, including a seven-month pregnant woman who was told on Friday to stay in Pakistan until she had given birth.
Islamabad says many of the undocumented Afghans have obtained national identity cards through illegitimate means. The government has been identifying and blocking all such suspected cards.
(Writing by Asif Shahzad; Reporting by Mushtaq Ali in Peshawar and Mohammad Yunus Yawar in Kabul; Additional reporting by Ariba Shahid in Karachi; Editing by Kim Coghill and Nick Macfie)