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Huge spike in Afghan refugees leaving Pak after school attack

There has been a huge spike in Afghan refugees returning to their homeland from Pakistan in the aftermath of the Peshawar school attack with 24,000 illegal settlers leaving the country last month amid calls for their deportation.

In January, 24,000 undocumented Afghan refugees entered Afghanistan's Nangarhar province. This is 93 per cent of the total number who returned to Afghanistan in 2014, according to International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

IOM said that the huge spike has occurred after the December 2014 Taliban attack on an army school in Peshawar that left 150 people, mostly children dead.

"Recent security incidents in Pakistan, particularly the tragic December 2014 attack on the school in Peshawar, have raised tensions in the country, which calls for mass deportations of undocumented Afghans from some sections of the population," IOM spokesperson Joel Millman said.

"Although there have been no large-scale arrests, deportations or evictions, the substantial increase in returns reflect the concerns of undocumented Afghans living in Pakistan," Millman said.

Of the total, around 94 per cent returned to their homeland spontaneously after the attacks and around six per cent were deported.

Most of the refugees are from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan and Punjab and most have been living for an average of 20 years, the IOM said. Many of them arrived during the Soviet invasion of 1979.

Spin Boldak and Torkham are the two major border crossings for refugees between Pakistan and Afghanistan and the unregulated borders have been a source of concern for both countries.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), around 1.6 million Afghans live legally in Pakistan while 3 million live illegally primarily in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

Relations between the Afghans and the locals have increasingly deteriorated.

After the Peshawar school attack, Chief Minister of KP, Pervez Khattak blamed the refugees for consistent acts of terrorism and said that a mechanism to send them back would be devised soon.