Following the order for 1.7 million “undocumented” Afghan nationals to leave Pakistan by the end of November, we have begun to witness the beginnings of a dire humanitarian crisis at the Afghanistan border. Every day, men, women and children are arriving in their thousands in Nangarhar and Kandahar provinces, the majority of whom having left all their belongings behind, with no idea what their futures hold. 

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According to UNHCR, more than 350,000 Afghan nationals have left Pakistan since the new policy was announced in early October, despite some of these men, women and children never having lived in Afghanistan. As many as 2,500-3,000 families are making this journey to Afghanistan daily.

Humanitarian needs are mounting

With over 29.2 million people in Afghanistan already in need of humanitarian support, and over 6 million already internally displaced, there is concern that this crisis will further strain the limited resources available in the country.

Many families have had to resort to sleeping outside with no protection whilst they wait to be processed by the authorities, without sufficient food or adequate water and sanitation facilities. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 60% of those arriving in Afghanistan are children. 

We spoke to Khoda, a father with ten children. Born in Pakistan, with no family in Afghanistan to support him, he told us about the worries he has for his family:

We have nothing. There is nowhere. No home for us to live in.

Additionally, the Pakistani authorities have confirmed that they are charging many of these refugees with an $830 'exit fee', a move which further exacerbates the challenges experienced by vulnerable families, as it diminishes their ability to afford food and vital necessities throughout the winter months. 

Our team have been on the ground at the Torkham border crossing, assessing the urgent needs of returnees, and analysing how best to offer effective support to families whose lives have been turned upside down. When processed, many families returning to Afghanistan aim to return to the provinces they or other family members have originated from. To ensure these households are able to reintegrate smoothly into these communities and build new lives, they will require multi-layered support. This will include urgent humanitarian assistance to keep them safe, warm and healthy - including cash for food and rent, tents and shelter equipment - as well as longer term support to help them establish sustainable livelihoods. For some households, they will need assistance starting a new life in a place they have never been before.

Another father, Sayed Hussan, spoke to us about what his young family needs:

I plan to enrol my children in school, and I will work to earn money. I don't have any land, no home, no shelter, no blankets, no money... My children are small, we need money to rent a place for my family. I am happy that I came to Afghanistan, but I will need support to make a life here.

Expulsions across the region

The Iranian government is also conducting a sustained campaign to evict thousands of “undocumented” Afghan families from the country, stating that over 400,000 Afghans had already been evicted in this year alone. As with those in Pakistan, many of these families have lived in Iran for decades, or had recently fled following instability and conflict. 

Compounding the challenges returnees from Iran face, many men, women and children returning to Afghanistan do so by crossing into Herat province, which has faced multiple devastating earthquakes over the past few months. This has decimated local infrastructure and severely decreased the area’s capacity to support arriving families.

We urgently call upon the Pakistani and Iranian governments to completely and immediately cease the forced removals of vulnerable families without "legal documentation." Often having fled conflict, natural disasters and other deeply insecure environments, many Afghans living in neighbouring countries first entered as many international resettlement schemes stipulate that they must apply for visas from a "third country", such as Pakistan. It is therefore imperative that nations with resettlement schemes for Afghan nationals expedite the swift and safe resettlement of eligible families, so they do not face displacement and insecurity yet again.

We need your help

In 1983, Afghanaid was formed as an organisation in Peshawar, Pakistan to provide support for Afghan refugees fleeing conflict, and the organisation has provided support to displaced Afghans ever since. At this difficult time, where Afghanistan is still reeling from the effects of successive deadly earthquakes and an ongoing humanitarian crisis, your donations help us to continue to find sustainable solutions to ensure Afghan men and women can keep working towards a more secure future for themselves and their families.

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