Deportation of Afghanistan citizens: Back to a Hopeless Country
By: Ahmad Walid Barlas
Over four decades of conflict and war in Afghanistan led to a significant emigration influx. This country with nearly 7 million documented and undocumented migrants stands among the top 5 countries of origin in the world. The majority of Afghan immigrants reside in neighboring countries such as Iran and Pakistan, and only a minor percentage of them reach Turkey, Germany, Austria, the US, Canada, and Australia. According to a recent report issued by the Interior Ministry of Iran, almost 2.2 million head-counted Afghanistan citizens live in that country. Similarly, the UNHCR confirms that over 1.4 million Afghanistan nationals with refugee status have been living in Pakistan since early 2022. In addition, nearly 800,000 Afghanistan inhabitants reside undocumented.
The international coalition led by the US invaded Afghanistan to fight against international terrorism in 2001. They have overthrown the Taliban regime and established a new government in Afghanistan. In addition, a massive amount of money was allocated to development and state building projects. After two decades, the United States withdrew the troops from Afghanistan and the Taliban resumed leadership. A significant number of people have decided to leave the country as fear and anxiety increased due to the international armies’ withdrawal and the Taliban takeover. Over 124,000 people were evacuated by foreign countries through evacuation operations. In addition, thousands of people have fled to bordering countries and overseas, as the local media reports that 4,000-5,000 Afghanistan citizens cross into Iran via regular and irregular channels every day.
It has been more than eighteen months since the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, where people are struggling with several issues such as insecurity, poverty, unemployment, famine and human rights violations. In particular, macro indicators warn about humanitarian and economic crises as the poverty rate increased to 97%, over 900,000 people lost their jobs, nearly one third of the population (28.3 million people) needs urgent assistance and 95% of female-headed households face inadequate food consumption. Further, the Taliban have imposed restrictions on girls’ schooling, women’s employment, women’s movement and instituted full body covering. Currently, the majority of Afghanistan residents, particularly young and educated people consider leaving the country as an optimal solution instead of staying. A study in Balkh and Samangan provinces revealed that 91% of surveyed youth think of fleeing to other countries.
On August 17th, 2021 the UNHCR released a statement of non-return advisory on Afghan refugees to all states, expressing its concerns about the prompt deterioration of the security and human rights situation in the country. However, several countries including Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and recently Tajikistan have been deporting thousands of Afghan refugees since August 2021. They consider these migrants as economic burdens and security threats. So, Turkey expelled nearly 50,000 Afghan citizens in the first 8 months of 2022, 1.5 times greater compared to the first 8 months of 2021. Likewise, Iran deported 70,000 Afghan refugees in January and February of 2022. Pakistan has deported a significant number of undocumented Afghan nationals and recently warned about detention and jail time for undocumented migrants.
The bulk of deportees are young, male and most of them are the only financial supporter of their families in Afghanistan. When they first arrive in the country, their main issues are insecurity and financial difficulties. Those who have been deported, in particular, previous government employees and military forces would be at potentially high risk. Currently, the extent of those concerns seems much bigger compared to before the collapse. For instance, the European Commission suspended deportation of Afghan refugees confirming that Afghanistan is not safe and will not be secure in the near future. In addition to that, international organizations warn about economic and humanitarian crises in the country. Although the majority of those deportees want to leave the country again, only a fraction of them have the means and/or networks to do so.
Those deportees who remain in the country may face the following four scenarios:
Firstly, those deportees who were journalists, women’s rights defenders, previous officials, military personnel and minorities are at high risk. Safety is the primary concern for themselves and their families. When they arrive in the country, they make efforts to change their locations and live in hiding.
Secondly, a major fraction of deportees are ordinary people and are responsible for providing financial support to their families, so they attempt to participate in the workplace in the hope of finding a job. But, the labor market is deteriorating and over 90,000 people have lost their jobs by mid-2022. Therefore, there is a high possibility that a significant percentage of them would not be able to obtain employment.
Thirdly, according to a recent report by the European Union Agency for Asylum several insurgent groups including Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), Al-Qaeda, Tahrik-i Taliban Pakistan and other armed groups are active in Afghanistan. There are estimations that 15-20% of deportees do not reintegrate peacefully in their origin communities and join insurgent groups. So, some of those Afghan deportees may join these crowds in an effort to save their families from hunger and starvation.
Lastly, returnees who remain in the country, still struggle with insecurity, human rights violations, and financial difficulties. There is a strong probability that a substantial percentage of them will suffer from mental illness and drug addiction.
It is undeniable that the security and human rights, and economic condition in Afghanistan is deteriorating, where deportees are the most affected and vulnerable groups in this situation. Over 90% of deportees experienced violence by the Taliban and/or other actors in the country. It is recommended to all international organizations, councils and unions who are working on refugee and migration issues to call on Iran, Turkey and Pakistan to immediately stop their deportation to Afghanistan. Because these strategies do not meet protection standards and provide no guarantees that the deportees will not face prosecution, harassment, discrimination and physical extortion.
Instead, the host countries can design and conduct voluntary programs for those Afghan refugees who are willing to return to the country. These plans enable all stakeholders to monitor the reparation process and assure that these packages meet all international protection principles. In addition, thousands of people who have been deported so far need sustainable support that can aid in reintegration. We recommend to donors, national and international organizations working in Afghanistan to develop and implement programs expanding employment opportunities for deportees that can assist them with safe and dignified reintegration.