In July 2017, UNHCR contracted Orange Door Research and Viamo (formerly VOTO Mobile) to use mobile phone surveys to collect real-time data from the returnee population and conflict-induced IDPs, supplemented by surveys with the general population. The exercise is part of the protection monitoring that UNHCR carries out in Afghanistan to identify violations of rights and protection risks for populations of concern, for the purpose of informing effective responses. The interviews with 2017 returnees were conducted one to six months after the returnees have settled in communities; IDP respondents were displaced in 2016 or 2017. In addition, interviews with 2016 returnees were conducted to assess their protection one year after return and to compare the findings with the 2017 returnees situation.
These surveys provide a unique perspective on current population mobility trends and actionable data regarding assistance needs, protection risks and vulnerability, as well as comparative information from surveys of a broader cross-section of the population.
Returnees and IDPs face a challenging situation in Afghanistan. Lack of access to education and health services, as well as lack of adequate housing, access to land and access to employment opportunities are all critical challenges jeopardizing the sustainability of return and reintegration. In addition, lack of economic opportunities remains a major challenge for the entire Afghan population, including returnees and IDPs. This situation is particularly concerning with the onset of winter, which further strains the already fragile coping mechanisms.
This report is based on 14,095 surveys conducted between August 30th 2017 and January 5th, 2018, including 6,097 IDP and 4,003 returnee surveys, as well as 3,995 general population surveys. Interviews with returnees include 3,217 surveys with 2017 returnees and 786 with 2016 returnees, in order to allow us to compare responses across these two populations. This research provides UNHCR Afghanistan a comprehensive, realtime view of the challenges facing returnee and IDP populations, and how these challenges relate to the situation facing the population as a whole. UNHCR Afghanistan is now able to benchmark how returnee and IDP populations are faring, compared to the general population.
The complexity and scope of this data gives UNHCR Afghanistan a detailed, granular view of these protection challenges across Afghanistan – distinguishing populations based on gender, income, location, and time of return or displacement. UNHCR is also able to analyze this information at scale, to determine and track key trends. This report and findings also provide evidence based data for appropriate planning, response and advocacy for the inclusion of returnees and IDPs needs in the national priority programmes.
At the same time, this research allowed UNHCR Afghanistan to reach returnees and IDPs in hard-toreach areas, including those living in the contested areas. Overall, returnees and IDPs in contested areas face even greater challenges than those living in areas controlled by the Afghan Government. For instance, returnees and IDPs in contested areas are more likely to have skipped a meal in the last week, more likely to have a child under age 14 working, less likely to have girl children in school, and are less likely to have access to health care compared to similar populations in Government-controlled areas.
UNHCR Afghanistan also surveyed 2016 returnees as well, to see how this population is faring over a year since they returned. The results show that the situation of facing 2016 returnees remains precarious, especially as regards basic needs – for instance, 39% of 2016 returnees report skipping a meal in the past week, compared to 27% of 2017 returnees and 55% of IDPs. That said, in some ways they are more settled in their communities. For example, 2016 returnees are substantially more likely to have their children enrolled in school, compared to 2017 returnees.
Overall, the high number of refugee returnees to Afghanistan and increased internal displacement has put additional pressure on an over stretched social service mechanism. In general, there is insignificant difference in terms of access to social and economic rights between returnees, IDPs and the general population. Through the survey, no particular challenges to the development of self-reliance have been observed that affect returnees and IDPs in a discriminatory way.
Despite the deteriorating security environment within Afghanistan, the situation of IDPs and returnees demonstrated mixed challenges and opportunities over time. For instance, the monitoring findings show that 2016 interviewed returnees tend to skip a meal more frequently compared to 2017 interviewed returnees (38.8% versus 26.5%); and children under 14 years who end up working in time of need is slightly higher among 2016 interviewed returnees. In contrast, 11% more boys and 14% more girls are in schools when comparing 2016 and 2017 returnees.
The returnee monitoring findings show overall 61% of 2017 interviewed returnees and 64% of 2016 interviewed returnees are currently living in their provinces of origin, which is a good indicator that people are returning to their areas of origin. However, they are facing difficult conditions in the villages or in the towns they have returned to. Challenges include the lack of job and livelihood opportunities, limited access to basic services, insecurity, and lack of land and housing which limits the potential of returnees and IDPs to re-establish families and make future investments, which is essential for the sustainability of their reintegration.
Host communities have a positive view of returnees and IDPs. Although, the general solidarity between returnees, IDPs and host communities can show some strains after large scale return and displacement, which is heightened by the slow pace of development or at times even the reversal in tackling widespread poverty and ensuring basic social services. The report underscores that nearly 60% of the interviewed returnees and 71% of interviewed IDPs reported difficulties with the host communities, all related to the lack of job opportunities rather than discrimination or inter-tribal tensions