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Deeply Talks: Afghan Returns Risk New Cycles of Displacement

As Pakistan, Iran and Europe continue to send Afghans back to Afghanistan despite intensifying conflict in several provinces, Refugees Deeply talked to experts in Kabul about what returning refugees face amid soaring displacement inside the country.

Written by Preethi Nallu Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes
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A 16-year-old mother sits with her daughter in the women’s section of the U.N. refugee agency processing center in East Kabul. Both were born in Pakistan, and neither has ever lived in Afghanistan.Preethi Nallu

Decades of invasions, unrest and conflict in Afghanistan have created over 1.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), including 600,000 newly displaced last year due to renewed fighting in the country. Last week, U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan caused civilian casualties, the latest reminder that the troubled country remains embroiled in war.

Yet, Pakistan, Iran and some European countries continue to send Afghans home. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) counted 1.2 million returnees from Pakistan in nine provinces across Afghanistan in their latest survey from July, as well as 222,000 returnees from Iran and another 41,803 people from Europe and Turkey.

On a recent trip to Afghanistan, I documented the lives of long-term IDPs living in Kabul as well as new returnees from Pakistan, who now face internal displacement because of the lack of security in the provinces they are from.

As part of our Deeply Talks series, we hosted two top experts on Afghanistan and displacement to explore further the conditions facing returnees and how to protect them from being displaced inside the country, or joining the international migration trail all over again.

Will Carter, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) Afghanistan program, which is aiding returnees in Jalalabad, Herat, Kabul and other provinces, described “distressing scenes” on the border.

“They had little bearing on where they’re going back to in Afghanistan. One man held out his late father’s identity documents – he had no other contacts here,” Carter said. “He decided to go back to a quite unsafe part of Eastern Afghanistan.”

Nassim Majidi, cofounder of Kabul-based think-tank Samuel Hall, stressed the need for better data on Afghan returnees. “There’s as many databases on returns as there are NGOs in Afghanistan,” she said.

To fill some of these knowledge gaps, NRC is working with Samuel Hall on upcoming research into the specific vulnerability of returnees who are experiencing internal displacement, and how their needs are both different and similar to those of long-term displaced populations.

The experts also discussed whether there should be a new category of displacement that is particular to returned refugees and asylum seekers, and how to ensure that long-term IDPs are not left out of protection and reintegration assistance.

Listen to the whole episode here:

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