In line with UNHCR’s protection monitoring objectives and noting with concern the increasing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cross-border movements to/from 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 aims 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 Afghans amidst possible limitations imposed by the pandemic.
As a recent improvement and in view of the current context in Afghanistan, in 2021UNHCR revised its border (inflow) monitoring tool in order to include outflow monitoring at all four official entry points with Iran and Pakistan. The new tools were launched as of 01 April 2021 with the purpose of understanding the triggers/intentions/reasons of Afghan’s movements to Pakistan and Iran. Outflows monitoring also enables assessment of access to the territory and “the right to seek asylum” for people leaving Afghanistan and who may be in need of international protection.
In June, UNHCR assisted the return of 191 Afghan refugees from Pakistan (112), Iran (71) and other countries (8). Cumulatively since the beginning of 2021, UNHCR has assisted the return of 1,143 Afghan refugees from Iran (706), Pakistan (400) and other countries (37) under its facilitated voluntary repatriation programme. These returns were 202% higher than the 377 Afghans who returned during the same period in 2020. Refugee returnees continue to receive a multi-purpose cash grant upon arrival (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. More details about assisted refugee return is available in UNHCR’s 2nd Quarterly Report as of 30 June 2021.
In addition to refugee returnees and in the context of coordinated activities at entry points, a total number of 112,184 undocumented returnees/deportees have been recorded in June, according to MoRR/IOM. This includes 110,835 from Iran (58,395 spontaneous returnees and 52,440 deportees) and 1,349 from Pakistan (1,312 spontaneous returnees and 37 deportees). Cumulatively since 01 January, the total number of undocumented returnees/deportees stands at 607,939 individuals, including 601,154 from Iran (323,620 deportees and 277,534 spontaneous returnees) and 6,785 from Pakistan (6,259 spontaneous returnees and 526 deportees).
Individual and household level inflow interviews conducted by UNHCR through partners as part of border monitoring activities randomly reached a total of 6,799 returnees and deportees including 4,628 males and 2,171 females (representing 6% of total returnees/deportees in June). Cumulatively since January 2021, a total of 42,198 interviews (representing 7% of total returnees/deportees) were conducted by the UNHCR border monitoring partners with returnees/deportees of various status (29,307 males and 12,891 females) upon return from Iran at Zaranj/Milak (15,655) and Islam Qala (8,660), and from Pakistan at Spin Boldak/Chaman (9,658) and Torkham (8,225). These include 28,219 single individuals and 13,979 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 – 30 June 2021, outflow interviews were conducted by UNHCR through partners with a total of 5,236 Afghans including 3,385 males and 1,851 females prior to their departure to Pakistan – through Torkham (878) and Spin Boldak (3,365), and Iran – through Islam Qala (721) and Zaranj (272) crossing points. These were consisting of 2,945 single individuals and 2,291 families. Outflow monitoring interviews were impacted due to mitigating measures linked to COVID-19 imposed by the government of Iran at Islam Qala (29 April – 23 June) while outflow movements remained suspended through Zaranj/Milak (29 April to date). Similarly, the outflow movements were suspended due to mitigating measures linked to COVID-19 imposed by the government of Pakistan, through Spin Boldak (05 – 20 May), while movements remained suspended through Torkham since 05 May to date. However, inflow movements continued through all entry points.