In line with UNHCR’s protection monitoring objectives and noting with concern the increasing impact of COVID-19 pandemic on cross-border movements in Afghanistan, in April 2020, UNHCR made the decision to expand its protection and return monitoring activities to the official entry points with Iran (Islam Qala and Zaranj/Milak crossing points) and Pakistan (Spin Boldak/Chaman and Torkham) by establishing border monitoring activities mostly focusing on inflows. Through regular and consistent presence at these zero points, UNHCR aimes to ensure efficient, timely and systematic collection and analysis of protection related information from Afghan returnees irrespective of their status. Border monitoring also helps to assess access to the territory and “the right to asylum” for people fleeing persecution who may be in need of international protection. It also aims at assessing the right to return for Afghan refugees and other nationals amidst possible limitations imposed by the pandemic.
As a recent improvement and in view of the current context in Afghanistan, UNHCR, in 2021, in consultation with UNHCR offices in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, revised its border (inflow) monitoring tool to include outflow monitoring in all four official entry points with Iran and Pakistan. The new tools were launched as of 01 April 2021 with the purpose to understand the triggers/intentions/reasons of Afghans movements to Pakistan and Iran.
Outflows monitoring will also enable to assess access to the territory and “the right to seek asylum” for people fleeing persecution (in Afghanistan) who may be in need of international protection i.e. in Iran and / or Pakistan.
In April, UNHCR assisted the return of 201 Afghan refugees from Iran (103), Pakistan (92) and other countries (6). Cumulatively since the beginning of 2021, UNHCR assisted the return of 774 Afghan refugees from Iran (536), Pakistan (226) and other countries (12) under its facilitated voluntary repatriation programme. The figure is 153% higher compared to 2020 figures at the same period when 306 refugees returned. Refugee returnees continue to receive upon arrival a multi-purpose cash grant (an average of USD 250 per person) and other multisector assistance services at Encashment Centers located in Herat, Kandahar, Kabul, and Nangarhar provinces.
UNHCR’s cash grants to refugees upon return to Afghanistan intend to address their immediate needs to prevent, reduce, and respond to protection risks and vulnerabilities.
In addition to refugee returnees and in the context of coordinated activities at entry points, a total number of 118,802 undocumented returnees/deportees have been recorded in April, according to MoRR/IOM. This include 117,618 from Iran (67,153 deportees and 50,465 spontaneous returnees) and 1,184 from Pakistan (1,091 spontaneous returnees and 93 deportees). Cumulatively since 01 January, the total number of undocumented returnees/deportees stands at 368,406 individuals, including 363,942 from Iran (203,761 deportees and 160,181 spontaneous returnees) and 4,464 from Pakistan (4,074 spontaneous returnees and 390 deportees).
Individual and household level inflow interviews conducted by UNHCR through partners as part of border monitoring activities randomly reached a total of 3,492 returnees and deportees including 2,581 males and 911 females (representing 3% of total returnees/deportees in April). Cumulatively since January 2021, a total of 28,486 interviews (representing 8% of total returnees/deportees) were conducted with returnees/deportees of various status (19,896 males and 8,590 females) upon return from Iran at Zaranj/Milak (10,438) and Islam Qala (5,493), and from Pakistan at Spin Boldak/Chaman (7,603) and Torkham (4,952). These include 19,243 single individuals and 9,243 heads of households who returned with their families. In general, the majority of returnees/deportees from Iran are single males, while it is not the case among returnees/deportees from Pakistan.
Similarly, during April 2021, outflow interviews were conducted by UNHCR through partners with a total of 2,493 Afghans including 1,949 males and 544 females prior to their departure to Pakistan - through Torkham (515) and Spin Boldak (1,128) – and Iran - through Islam Qala (578) and Zaranj (272) crossing points. These were consisting of 1,743 single individuals and 750 families. Outflow monitoring do not cover unofficial entry points which are not accessible by the humanitarian organizations.