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Mass Forced Returns from Pakistan to Afghanistan Overwhelm Borders, Stretch Resources

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Human Wrongs Watch

(IOM)* Torkham, Spin Boldak, 21 November 2023 – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and humanitarian partners are delivering a range of critical aid at border crossing points between Pakistan and Afghanistan in response to the hundreds of thousands of forcibly returned Afghans.

IOM staff distribute assistance cards to Afghans returning through the Spin Boldak border crossing. Photo: IOM 2023/M.Osman Azizi

Nearly 375,000 Afghans have left Pakistan in the past two months primarily through the Torkham and Spin Boldak border crossings, according to IOM’s latest figures.

The number of border crossings has dramatically increased from 200 daily to 17,000 since Pakistan’s “Illegal Foreigners’ Repatriation Plan” set a 1 November deadline for the “voluntary return” of all undocumented Afghans in Pakistan to their country of origin.

“Their situation is desperate; most people told us they were forced to leave the country and leave belongings and savings behind,” said IOM Afghanistan Chief of Mission Maria Moita.

“People arriving in Afghanistan are extremely vulnerable and need immediate support at the border as well as for the long term in the areas of return. This is a significant humanitarian crisis and funds are urgently needed to continue providing immediate assistance after arrival to ensure a safe and dignified return.”

Critical aid including shelter, water, sanitation, essential household items, healthcare, protection and nutrition services, as well as cash to cover basic needs, transportation and food is being provided by the IOM-led border consortium.

“I was so panicked, those five nights I spent with my daughters on the way to Kandahar totally destroyed me,” said Aliya, a 32-year-old mother of two. “We were taken care of at the border but there are so many people here at the same time, it’s very difficult.”

The unprecedented and increasing number of daily forced returns has required the establishment of larger reception centers where returning Afghans await assistance before proceeding to intended areas of return.

The border consortium has launched an initial Appeal to support the border operations. The dramatic surge in arrivals and the level of vulnerability of those returning will require a revision of the appeal and additional resources.

The situation for women and girls in Afghanistan is exceptionally difficult, and needs are only likely to increase as winter approaches. The international community must increase its support at a time when funding for the Afghan population is rapidly declining.

After decades of conflict, instability and economic crisis, Afghanistan will struggle to absorb the high number of returning families, many of whom have not lived in the country for decades if ever. With over six million people already internally displaced throughout the country, Afghans returning from Pakistan face a precarious, uncertain future.

Afghanistan has the third largest number of internally displaced people in the world. A new report by IOM and Georgetown University released today in Berlin concluded suitable housing for IDPs is key to securing their economic independence and reducing dependence on humanitarian assistance. The report can be found here.

IOM is grateful for the support of the consortium partners in Afghanistan who have mobilized as well as its donors who have enabled a prompt response to the massive increase in returns. Together, we reiterate our call to all countries to immediately suspend forcible returns of Afghan nationals for the immediate and longer term.


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