Hundreds of thousands of Afghans living in Pakistan faced the threat of detention and deportation on Wednesday, as a government deadline for them to leave sparked a mass exodus.
The government has given 1.7 million Afghans it says are living illegally in the country until November 1 to leave voluntarily or be forcibly removed.
Thousands joined a snaking queue that stretched for seven kilometres at the busiest border point on Wednesday, with at least 29,000 people crossing into Afghanistan the day before.
Authorities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where the majority of Afghan migrants live, will launch a widespread operation to arrest undocumented families who refuse to leave, Feroz Jamal, a spokesman for the provincial government, told AFP.
Forty-nine holding centres, some capable of holding several thousand people, were set to open across the country on Wednesday to process and deport Afghans, state media said.
A 14-year-old Afghan girl, whom AFP has not identified for security reasons, said she would stay in Pakistan as long as possible, despite not having legal papers.
"We are not going back home, because my education in Afghanistan would come to a grinding halt," she told AFP in Peshawar.
"Our father has told us that if he is arrested by Pakistani authorities, we should not leave even then. Because we will have no life in Afghanistan."
Millions of Afghans have poured into Pakistan in recent decades, fleeing a series of violent conflicts, including an estimated 600,000 since the Taliban government seized power in August 2021 and imposed its harsh interpretation of Islamic law.
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