Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, March 29th, 2020

In Search of Refuge!


In Search of Refuge!

The political and security situation in Afghanistan has always forced many Afghans to leave their land and move to other countries to seek refuge. There are many Afghans living in the neighboring countries because of the civil wars and severe social and economic conditions in the last few decades. Pakistan and Iran are two prominent countries where most of the Afghans have moved and are finding ways to survive there.

Though the end of Taliban regime and the developments being made in the country have convinced several to return to their country, yet many still remain dubious about their future in Afghanistan and therefore have opted to live away from their homeland. Definitely, the life for Afghan people has been very difficult in their own country but the life as refugees has not been a bed of roses. They have had different problems and will keep on facing them unless measures are taken to curb them.

Moreover, if they return to their country, again a pile of problems would be waiting for them. No doubt, Afghanistan has been able to develop, yet the country has not been self sufficient to give better opportunities of contended and blissful life to its people, so most of them who return have to restart their lives from very beginning.

Most of the Afghan refugees started moving to other countries in the region and throughout the world after the Soviet invasion of 1979 and an interminable civil war that followed. About 3.3 million Afghan refugees moved to Pakistan by 1988, most of whom were kept in Peshawar and the rest were somehow settled in other parts of Khyber Pahkthnkhwa. Moreover, after the incident of 9/11, when International forces engaged in war in Afghanistan, many refugees fearing the situation moved to Pakistan. According to calculations, there were about 5 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan by the end of 2001.

Since, 2002, Afghan refugees have been assisted in returning to their country from other countries and from Pakistan. In 2006, Pakistani government started registration of Afghan refugees so as to figure out the correct number of refugees and provided them ID cards, as well. In February, 2007, the total number of registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan was about 2.15 million. Currently, there are 1.7 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and they can have some basic rights like the opportunity to work and attend schools until the end of 2012.

The Soviet invasion compelled many Afghan refugees to move to Iran, as well. Nearly about 2 million Afghan refugees were living in Iran by 1988. Though Iran welcomed warmly the Afghan refugees, better living opportunities for them remained very much limited throughout the country. They have been struggling much even for their basic rights. Currently, nearly 900,000 Afghan refugees live in Iran. About 100,000 Afghan refugees were forcibly deported to Afghanistan in 2007, due to the tightening policies of Iranian government towards the Afghan refugees.

There are other countries as well to which Afghan refugees moved during crucial situations in their country. Reports suggest that there are Afghans who have moved to North America, the European Union, Australia and other parts of the world. Moreover, several thousand Afghan refugees moved to India, as well.

There are some among these refugees, who have been able to find better opportunities of living their lives, but there are many who are not able to have better living standards and they yearn to return to their own homeland. If the situation in Afghanistan gets better, there are possibilities that many of them return to their own land and they have been doing that for the last few year, but unfortunately, the situation at the moment seems to be moving towards deterioration once again as Afghanistan is going through transition period.

People at the moment do not seem to be confident enough to return to the country, but they will definitely do so, if the transition period concludes in better security situation and stable social, political and economic conditions in different parts of the country.

United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) mentioned last year that in 2011 about 60,000 refugees returned home. The report by UN agency mentioned that out of 60,000 refugees who have returned home 43,000 are from Pakistan and about 17,000 are from Iran. At the same time it should be noted that this return is voluntary.

It is really good sign that the Afghan refugees are returning to their homeland, yet the concerns about their compensation are really serious. The report revealed that the number that returned from Pakistan has been 59 percent lower than in the same period in 2010, when about 103,000 Afghan refugees returned home, whereas the number of refugees who have returned from Iran has doubled as compared to a year earlier.

In 2010 about 7,500 refugees returned home from Iran. This situation clearly depicts that life for refugees is getting tougher in Iran. This increase appears to be due to economic pressure and the discontinuation of subsidies on basic goods and services by the Iranian government.

The refugees who have been returning in recent years, have mostly moved to Kabul(26%), Nangarhar (14%), Herat (8%), Kunduz (8%), while the rest have opted for Kandahar, Laghman, Balkh, Baghlan and Paktia (4% each). Return of the refugees in the urban areas like Kabul can be settled at the moment, but it would be difficult in the long run. Moreover, it would be really a challenging task to compensate the ones who return to remote areas.

Now that Afghan refugees are returning or they may be returning in the times to come, there is great problem of their resettlement in the country. Many of them have been living for almost some decades in the other countries and there are several who were born there. Now, once they come back their adjustment would be really very challenging.

Moreover, Afghanistan does not stand on its own as far as the economic stability and security are concerned. Therefore, a lot more assistance would be needed from the regional powers and international community to help them settle in their own country as they have been through many difficulties in their lives as refugees.

Dilawar Sherzai is the permanent writer of the Daily outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at dilawar.sherzai@gmail.com

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