PHNOM PENH: War-torn Afghanistan could boost its fragile economy if nearby Gulf countries gave temporary, legal jobs to migrants, the World Bank said, amid rising deportations from Iran and Pakistan.

Millions of unregistered Afghan refugees and migrants have been deported or voluntarily returned home since 2015, raising concerns over how Afganistan will cope with the influx.

“In the absence of sufficient jobs, a growing young, underemployed, and idle population represents both wasted human capital and a potential conflict risk,” the World Bank said in a report.

“Labor mobility represents an important opportunity for Afghan migrants, the Afghan economy, and recipient countries.”

More than 6 million Afghans took shelter in neighboring Iran and Pakistan after the 1979 Soviet invasion, according to the United Nations, but recent tensions have raised fears of mass forced returns.

Some 2 million Afghans have been deported or chosen to leave Iran and Pakistan since 2015, British aid agency Oxfam said.

European countries have also deported smaller numbers of Afghans, despite rising violence as groups like the Taliban and Islamic State battle the government.

If Afghanistan signed bilateral agreements with nearby Gulf countries - the world’s third most popular migration destination - it could create 75,000 overseas jobs annually and triple remittances within 15 years, the World Bank said.

With an unemployment rate of 20 percent and 400,000 people entering the job market each year, this could provide a lifeline for families struggling with Afghanistan’s “dim” economic prospects, it said.

Most Afghan migrants are unskilled, often illiterate, workers who travel illegally, the World Bank said. If legal channels were opened up, they would be able to learn skills before traveling and during their stay overseas, it said.

Almost three in four Afghans who return home after seeking sanctuary abroad are forced to flee again due to fresh fighting, the Norwegian Refugee Council said in January.

A big influx of returnees from Pakistan and Iran would challenge the government and aid agencies, as Afghanistan is already struggling with large numbers of internally displaced people, the United Nations has said.