Today over 2 million Afghan refugees live in Pakistan. Since last July, the government of Pakistan has toughened its policy to repatriate Afghan refugees. As a result, 630,000 Afghan refugees returned to Afghanistan last year. Additional 500,000 refugees are estimated to join them in March following the winter pause. To prepare for emergency relief, AAR Japan conducted a preliminary assessment to examine the living conditions of these Afghan returnees who are stranded in in Nangarhar Province, which makes an entry point along the eastern border. The province currently hosts over 140,000 Afghan returnees who are taking temporary refuge. Through the assessment we discovered these “returnees” have no home to return to. This report details the returnees’ situations observed by the assessment team in the field.
Nowhere to Go—Returnees Shivering in Tents
From February 20th to March 4th AAR’s assessment team interviewed 3,815 households, in 10 districts in Nangarhar province most populated by the. Half of those interviewed lived under tents near the river or on a piece of land owned by someone else because they have nowhere else to stay. The Pakistani government is forcefully kicking Afghan refugees but the Afghan government has no designated camps for resettling the returnees. Nonetheless, the Afghan government does not allow NGOs to provide shelters these returnees. Under these circumstances, all returnees have to bear individual responsibilities to find a place to live. This is nearly impossible simply because they are poor and their hometown is under political instability.
One woman who lives in a tent shared her story with tears in her eyes. “My husband had already died, so I returned to Afghanistan with my children. I had to sell some of the belongings to pay for food and a place to put up a tent, but it cannot withstand the rain and wind. Some children died from the cold. We need a proper house. Children cannot go to school but they work on the street or in a brick factory. These kinds of jobs are too hard for children. Many NGOs are saying that they will help us, but it’s the only handful who receive any help. We came back to our country with hope. But there is no hope here.”
Children can’t go to school because of financial burdens, coupled with the language barrier. There are multiple languages spoken in Afghanistan and Pakistan, some of which are shared across the border. However, most of the children cannot speak languages spoken in Afghanistan because they were born and raised in Pakistan. Education will be a major issue for these returnee children in the coming years.
We Need any Support
This is a story from the man we interviewed. “My family has no home to go back to in Afghanistan. We have no money to buy a land or build a house. We are staying in a tent now, but it barely keeps out the cold or rain. We cannot visit a doctor. We have no place to give birth. We have no education for children. I’m worried that our children will grow up without learning how to read or write. We were too optimistic in thinking that we’d have an income, a place to stay, and education for our children. I don’t think our basic human needs will ever be fulfilled because no one gives things we desperately need. People like you talk to me but I don’t have hopes that any of you would do anything to help. But, if you do, even if it’s something small, I’d appreciate it.”
The “unregistered” returnees are particularly vulnerable. The registered refugees receive a returnee certificate issued by the United Nations which entitles them to then receive a small sum of money for repatriation. However, approximately 500,000 Afghans who have lived in Pakistan without registration in the first place return home without a certificates. Out of 630,000 people who already returned to Afghanistan, 250,000 are unregistered. Information on their household size or location is unavailable, making it difficult to deliver aid.
In coming the spring, additional 500,000 Afghan refugees are expected to return. AAR Japan will support these vulnerable households such as families of persons with disabilities, widowed families or those who have not received any aid.
Please help Afghan returnees gain a place to live, food to eat, and education for children through supporting our emergency response initiative.