Afghan refugees from Pakistan pressured to return to their war-torn homeland

Which way home? Which way home? AFP/Reuters

13 April 2017
After more than thirty years of receiving refuge in Pakistan, pressure was put on Afghan refugees to return to their war-torn homeland.

According to the United Nations, more than 600,000 Afghan refugees returned home from Pakistan, amidst allegations that the Pakistani authorities were leading a campaign of harassment against Afghans and pressuring them to leave the country.

In addition to having an internally-displaced local population of about 400,000 people, the returnees are putting a strain on an already-stretched Afghan government, unable to deal with the influx of 2016.  A survey by the UN revealed that 46% of the returnees in the Kabul area were facing food insecurity, while the figure in the Nangarhar province, on the border with Pakistan, was comparatively lower at 30%.  Employment was also a major concern for 64% of the respondents of the survey in both areas.   

In addition, many returnees have no home to return to, having spent a good part of the their lives in Pakistan.  Land would not only give them somewhere to build a house; it would also allow them to farm, which would cut down on hunger and unemployment.

The spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, Hafiz Ahmad Miakhel, said the government is working on a land distribution programme. However, various factors, including insecurity in the returnees’ home districts, lack of effective coordination among the  concerned ministries, registration of returnees, were slowing down the process of resettlement of the returnees. The human rights organization, Amnesty International reported a year ago that the Afghan government had failed to implement a national policy of providing basic living conditions for displaced people, stating that many were “on the brink of survival”.

The government gives each returnee $50, while the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, provides registered refugees with another $200, half of what was given in 2016.  With monthly rents between $75-$100, this money gets quickly depleted.  Other humanitarian groups like the Norwegian Refugee Council [NRC] also provide some support to some returnees, for example by building shelters.  Out of the $550 million funding requested by the Afghan government and the humanitarian agencies to fund programmes in 2017, only 21% has been committed or delivered so far.

Many returnees, like Afsad and his family, lived a relatively comfortable life in Pakistan.  Returning to a war-torn country with a collapsed economy and infrastructure, with a government unable to support even basic living conditions, adds to their challenge of building a new life in a homeland many have never seen. The added pressure from Pakistan is not helping alleviate the situation.


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