After Pakistan has announced this week their intention to begin "Phase Two" of the "repatriation" of Afghan nationals from Pakistan without "sufficient" documentation, there is widespread concern about the rights and welfare of those facing forced deportation.

Since October last year, a significant number of men, women and children have returned to Afghanistan following the announcement of the "Illegal Foreigners’ Repatriation Plan" by Pakistan's government which threatens the status of approximately 1.7 million Afghans in the country. As of the 9th March, the UN International Organization for Migration have recorded more than 534,000 returnees at Afghanistan's borders with Pakistan since the announcement was made, with families returning either forcibly or due to fear of expulsion.

For many Afghans, this has meant packing up their belongings and travelling long distances en masse to a country that is already struggling with widespread poverty, poor health services and increased restrictions on women. As was widely reported in October last year, a large majority of Afghans in Pakistan have resided there for a considerable length of time. For many, it is the only home they've ever known, having been born and raised in the country as second or third-generation immigrants. Now, they have no legal recourse as they are deported to a place they have never lived.

Whilst returnee numbers decreased throughout the winter months, following Eid al-Fitr last week, the government of Pakistan announced their intention to push for a second wave of expulsions of Afghan nationals, prioritising the removal of Afghan Citizen Card Holders, who are first being asked to leave the country willingly before facing arrest. It is estimated that 800,000 Afghans residing in Pakistan are holders of this card, which was issued by the Government of Pakistan. Initially used as a means to identify and register Afghan refugees and nationals as part of the registration process, these cards are now being used as a means through which to deport Afghan nationals who have followed the recommended process to recognise their status in the country.

Limited support for returning families

This renewed commitment to deport already vulnerable families comes at a time of great humanitarian need across Afghanistan. With over 28 million people in Afghanistan already in need of humanitarian support, and with humanitarian programming severely underfunded, there is real concern that this will further exacerbate the need present across the country - for already stretched communities, there is little infrastructure or resources available to provide support for families arriving from Pakistan.

Last year, our team visited the Torkham border crossing to assess how best to support returning households integrate into a new life in Afghanistan. Many, including Khoda and Sayed Hussan, planned to travel back to their families' province of origin after they had been processed by the authorities, but were apprehensive about what might await them when they arrived. 

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.

- Sayed Hussan

Across the provinces where our current programmes operate, many have a high proportion of displaced households, with 13% of people in Daykundi province classified as a returnee from abroad. Daykundi province, among others, is currently experiencing a large strain on its natural resources, with climate-induced changes to weather patterns causing a depletion of water levels across the province, and caused crop yields to decrease. Without targeted support, many incoming families will struggle to simply eat and drink sufficient amounts, let alone find employment or reliable housing. 

Our teams are currently assessing how best to support those returning from Pakistan to integrate and rebuild their lives when they reach their target provinces. From providing families with income-earning opportunities, to improving their access to water and other critical resources, our projects will ensure they have the capacity to thrive in their new communities.

We join the UN and other NGOs in urging Pakistan to suspend forcible returns of Afghan nationals immediately.

Providing support in times of crisis since 1983

Over forty years ago, Afghanaid was established in Peshawar, Pakistan, with the aim of supporting Afghan refugees escaping conflict and instability. Since then, we have remained committed to assisting families and communities as they navigate a variety of crises, including displacement, poverty, food insecurity and natural disasters. Today, your contributions enable us to continue in this mission of developing sustainable solutions to build a brighter future for all in Afghanistan. 

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