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Afghan Refugees Return to an Uncertain Future

  • Ayesha Tanzeem

More than 800,000 Afghans – both documented refugees and undocumented deportees – have returned to their country from Pakistan and Iran this year. National institutions seem to lack the capacity and resources to handle the inflow. The United Nations has warned of a humanitarian crisis and has launched a flash appeal for additional funding to deal with it.

Wrapping their entire lives onto trucks, they’re returning home in droves. Even if, like Azad Khan Minumdai, they don’t know what home would hold for them.

“I’ve returned after a long time. I was born in Pakistan. I don’t have a home here. I’m living with someone else. I left because the situation in Pakistan had become very difficult. One has to protect one’s honor,” said Minumdai.

Neighboring countries, particularly Pakistan, hosted several million Afghan refugees for four decades but has been pushing them to return home for the last two years. Afghans living in Pakistan have reported increased police harassment, forcing them to leave.

The busiest border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan has been even busier than usual this year. The number of Afghan refugees returning from Pakistan in 2016 is up by more than 300 percent compared to last year.

The United Nations warns that the returnees will make up the bulk of more than one million Afghans that will be displaced by the end of the year. Most would need assistance. At least 40 percent are considered highly vulnerable.

The Afghan government is struggling to provide for them.

Haji Ghulamullah has returned home with his clan of 600 to 800 families—most of them too poor to pay for their own food or water. He is paying $300 per day just to get water delivered.

“The refugees ministry [of Afghanistan] told us that they would build houses for us and provide water. When I called them from here that nothing was done, they said launch a street protest, close roads. I don’t like doing these things,” said Ghulamullah.

The U.N. has issued a flash appeal for more than $150 million. But only 13 percent of that total has been funded so far. With winter around the corner, the situation is fast deteriorating into a humanitarian crisis.

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