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Rights Group Says Pakistan Forcing Afghan Refugees To Return Home

Afghan refugees returning from Pakistan seek emergency assistance

Pakistan is forcing hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees back to their homeland, which is still wracked by violence and poverty, a human rights group has said.

"The exodus amounts to the world's largest unlawful mass forced return of refugees in recent times," a Human Rights Watch report said on February 13.

Pakistan cited security concerns for seeking to send Afghan refugees back to their homeland, particularly after several brutal attacks by militants in Pakistan's northwest, which the government linked to insurgents hiding in neighboring Afghanistan.

When their numbers peaked in the 1980s, Pakistan sheltered an estimated 5 million Afghan refugees as Afghan guerrilla fighters battled invading Russian troops.

Today there are still 1.3 million registered Afghan refugees living there, making Pakistan host of the world's largest long-term refugee population.

Last year, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told refugees in Pakistan to come home, promising them shelter and opportunities.

About 380,000 registered Afghan refugees returned to their homeland along with an estimated 250,000 unregistered refugees.

Pakistan said refugees who returned did so voluntarily and it extended the deadline for refugees to return to the end of this year. But Human Rights Watch said it should be extended through 2019.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters