Afghanistan: the return of the Undocumented

Published on Monday 13 February 2017

Out of the estimated 1.6 million Afghan people who have sought refuge in Pakistan for years or even decades, some 614,000 have returned to Afghanistan in 2016 according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Among them, 244,000 were not registered as refugees in Pakistan: they are the Undocumented. This status excludes them from regular government assistance being provided to registered returnees, leaving them to fend for themselves in harsh winter conditions.

afghanistan family refugees

While most Undocumented Returnees settled in the province of Nangarhar, at the South-East of Kabul and bordering Pakistan, they are over 5,000 in Khost Province. Khanama, in her fifties, is one of them. She left with her son, his wife, and their 4 children. Originating from the Paktia Province of Afghanistan, she and her family sought refuge to neighbouring Pakistan at the beginning of the Soviet invasion in 1979. For almost four decades, they lived in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, a historically sensitive region.

Khanama’s son and grandchildren have never lived in Afghanistan before being pushed out of Pakistan, becoming strangers in their own country.

Surviving through harsh winter conditions

They now live in the informal settlement where some of their family members have already been living in for several months. Around 40 other families live on this abandoned field located in a depression on the outskirts of the city. Most live in makeshift shelters made of wood, mere pieces of fabrics or tarpaulins, with no protection from the muddy ground. “When we arrived, we had a little stock of wheat that we brought with us from Pakistan, and other families helped us before we received help”.

As other vulnerable families on the settlement, Khanama’s family benefited from an emergency cash distribution from SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL, enabling them to purchase one-month worth of food stock and to cover other urgent costs, such as medication.

In addition to cash support for food, this family also received a tent, large enough for the entire family, and made of insulating materials protecting them from snow, rain, and mud.

Humanitarian assistance to Undocumented Afghan returnees

While Afghans who were registered as refugees in Pakistan benefit from substantial cash assistance from the UNHCR (400 $ per person), those who stayed undocumented in the country benefit from far less support. Undocumented Afghan Returnees thus mostly rely on humanitarian actors’ aid; especially since the Afghan government policy on returnees remains unclear despite 614,000 of them came back to Afghanistan in 2016.

Financial support through cash-for-food is one of the components of the European Union’s Emergency Response Mechanism, implemented by SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL and 7 other non-governmental organisations (ACTED, ACF, DACAAR, DRC, NRC, PIN, and PUI) to provide a comprehensive response to humanitarian emergencies induced by conflicts and natural disasters in the country.

Support Khanama and her family