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IRIN News, June 20, 2008

AFGHANISTAN: Returnees may become refugees again - ministry

“We don’t know where to go and settle,” said Mohammad Hussain who has returned with his family from Pakistan.

KABUL - The worsening security situation, unemployment, the food crisis, drought, shelter problems and lack of socio-economic opportunities may force some Afghans who have returned to their country in the past six years to cross international borders again in search of a better life, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Refugees and Repartition (MoRR) warned.

“Returnees may re-emigrate to neighbouring countries,” Abdul Qadir Zazai, chief adviser to the MoRR, told IRIN in Kabul.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said insurgency-related violence had displaced some Afghans and forced others to cross international borders.

Khewa camp
RAWA: Khewa camp in suburbs of Peshawar which was forcibly closed down by Pakistan government and hundreds of refugee families went to Afghanistan towards uncertain and unsecured future.

“Their numbers are certainly higher than in 2002-2003,” Salvatore Lombardo, the UNHCR representative in Afghanistan, told IRIN.

The warning comes amid international recognition that Afghanistan is the leading country in the world in terms of returns - with over five million refugees repatriated since 2002.

Over three million Afghan refugees have voluntarily returned home from Pakistan, about 856,000 have repatriated from Iran and over 14,700 have returned from other countries, according to the UNHCR.

At the height of the exodus, about eight million Afghans were living outside their home country, the agency said.


Owing to decades of conflict, natural disasters and overall underdevelopment, Afghanistan’s poverty ratings are among the highest in the world. Over half of its estimated 26.6 million population live below the poverty line on less than US$1 a day.

The return of over five million refugees - although a spectacular achievement for the post-Taliban government - has exacerbated access to scare resources in the country, aid workers say.

“We all know what Afghan citizens are facing daily in their lives. Returnees are experiencing the same problems: lack of land, shelter, clean drinking water, education, access to jobs and health facilities,” Lombardo said.

Land, shelter

To tackle one of the most pressing problems of most returnees - lack of shelter - President Karzai authorised a land allocation scheme to settle landless returnees.

According to the MoRR, over 100,000 families have applied to the scheme in the past four years, but only about 10,000 have received land on which to build a home.

“We don’t know where to go and settle,” said Mohammad Hussain who has returned with his family from Pakistan.

“We’ll set up a camp somewhere in the country,” said another returnee, Hashim, at the UNHCR encashment and transition centre in Kabul where returnees stay for up to 48 hours.

A small number of those who have received land through the government scheme have their own difficulties, such as the financial inability to build their houses, their lack of a livelihood and lack of basic services such as health and education in the designated areas.

Those who return to their original homes also find it difficult to re-establish a life after years of absence.

According to the UNHCR, since 2002 it has assisted 170,000 poor returnee families to rebuild their shelters, and plans to help 10,000 more in 2008.

Millions still abroad

Despite a massive return to Afghanistan in the past six years - representing “the single largest repartition operation in UNHCR’s 58-year history” - Afghans still make up the largest refugee population in the world under the UNHCR’s care, the organisation said in a statement.

About three million Afghan refugees currently live in two neighbouring countries, Pakistan and Iran. There are also hundreds of thousands of unregistered Afghans who live and work in both countries but do not enjoy refugee status and are liable to forced deportation.

Iran deported tens of thousands of unregistered Afghans in 2007 which pushed its war-ravaged and ill-prepared neighbour into a humanitarian emergency and political crisis.

“Iranian border security has killed 15-20 individual economic migrants so far this year who wanted to enter Iran illegally,” said the MoRR’s Zazai, adding that the emigrants were wrongly labelled as “terrorists and smugglers”.


As conflict, natural and man-made disasters, and food insecurity drive some Afghans to neighbouring countries, both Iran and Pakistan have refused to accommodate new immigrants, calling them “illegal intruders” who will be deported.

The UN says “undocumented Afghans” in Pakistan and Iran do not come under its “protection and care” and should be dealt with through domestic laws.

Iranian and Pakistani officials have repeatedly said “undocumented Afghans” are subject to arrest and deportation because they have broken the law by “illegal” entry.

Zazai said “the time has passed when Afghans could travel to Iran and Pakistan and be considered refugees”.

Category: Poverty, Refugees/IDPs - Views: 20935


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