December 14, 2023 — A group of nine international NGOs operating in Afghanistan urgently calls on the international community and humanitarian donors to increase their support for displaced families who have returned to Afghanistan to ensure their survival during the harsh winter months. Additionally, to avert a deepening crisis, they urge hosting countries to continue to offer refuge for Afghans abroad until a safe and sustainable return to their home country is viable.
Almost three months have passed since Pakistan announced that undocumented foreign nationals must leave the country or face deportation, since then close to half a million Afghans have crossed the border into Afghanistan. Returning Afghan families face a bleak future with little to no resources to survive the harsh winter, let alone rebuild their lives, warn CARE International (CARE), the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), INTERSOS, International Rescue Committee (IRC), Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW), Mercy Corps, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Save the Children International and World Vision International (WVI).
80 percent of those returning are women and children who are exposed to heightened protection risks on the journey back to Afghanistan. Mariam*, a mother of five who is confined in a living space with 11 family members, shares her family’s struggles in meeting their needs:
“We used all our money, including the assistance we received at the border, to return to Afghanistan and pay the transportation costs. Some relatives helped us find shelter in Jalalabad, but the owner is now asking for the rent, and we have nothing left. What will we even find to eat? I wish we could have our own house and find work opportunities. Without support for us women, we will be forced to beg on the streets or send our children in the streets to find whatever work they can.”
Afghanistan is still reeling from decades of conflict, disasters such as the recent devastating earthquakes in the western part of the country, and a crippling economic crisis. With 29 million people in need of humanitarian support, Afghanistan has little to offer to those returning.
With nothing to go back to and limited resources available, the survival and well-being of the returning families is at stake. The lack of jobs and employment opportunities severely impacts the ability of those returning to support their families and integrate into communities, especially for women-headed households. Long-term solutions must also be prioritised to support all displaced Afghans in the country to rebuild their lives, for example, they must be able to settle on adequate lands without fear of eviction and further displacement, as well as access job opportunities and education.
*The name has been changed to protect the interviewee.
Notes to editors:
- Cumulatively, from 15 September to 9 December 2023, 456,590 individuals have returned from Pakistan to Afghanistan. This number is predicted to rise in coming months.
- On 26 September 2023, the Ministry of the Interior of the Government of Pakistan issued the Illegal Foreigners Repatriation Plan. This Plan outlines the proposed return / deportation procedures for non-citizens who reside in Pakistan and do not hold a valid visa in three phases, starting with undocumented Afghan nationals, followed by Afghanistan Citizen Card (ACC) holders, and Proof of Registration (PoR) holders. Read more here: ADSP Briefing Note: Deported to what? Afghans in Pakistan - October 2023
- 80% of those returning are women and children, 48% are women and girls, and 13% are women heads of households.
- Out of the 4.4 million Afghan refugees estimated to be living in Pakistan, there are 1.73 million who have no legal documents to stay.
- UNHCR has issued a non-return advisory to Afghanistan in August 2021. It was renewed in February 2023 and calls for a bar on forced returns of Afghan nationals, including asylum seekers who have had their claims rejected.
- Throughout October and November 2023, the daily number of arrivals ranged between 9,000 and 10,000 individuals, marking a stark contrast to the previous average of approximately 300 individuals a day before the announcement. IOM registered peaks at up to 57,000 on the night of the deadline.
- 29 million Afghans inside the country are currently in need of humanitarian assistance according to UN estimates, with 17.2 million people, 40 per cent of the population, struggling to meet their basic food needs (OCHA).
- Aid operations in the country face a critical funding gap as humanitarian needs remain severe. As the end of the year draws near, the $3.2 billion appeal to help more than 29 million people across the country is just 41.9 per cent funded.