In line with UNHCR’s protection monitoring objectives, notwithstanding the increase of COVID-19 related incidents across the territory of Afghanistan, 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 the border monitoring activities mostly focusing on inflows. Through maintaining a consistent presence at these zero points, UNHCR aimed to ensure efficient, timely and systematic gathering of protection information from Afghan returnees and deportees, irrespective of their status. Border monitoring also helps to assess the access of people to the territory “the right to asylum” for people fleeing persecution who may be in need of international protection as well as the right to return for Afghan refugees and other nationals amidst possible limitations imposed by the Pandemic.
Since 01 January, UNHCR assisted the return of 121 Afghan refugees from Iran (101) and Pakistan (20), under its facilitated voluntary repatriation programme. Refugee returnees receive, upon arrival, a multi-purpose cash grant (on average USD 250 per person) and other services (such as basic health care, malnutrition screening and vaccination, mine risk awareness, information on school enrolment, awareness raising about COVID-19, distribution of PPE, if needed, and overnight accommodation) at Encashment Centers (ECs) located in Herat, Kandahar, Kabul, and Nangarhar provinces. UNHCR’s cash grants to refugee returnees are intended to address immediate needs aiming to prevent, reduce, and respond to protection risks and vulnerabilities upon return to Afghanistan.
In addition, to refugee returnees, according to MoRR/IOM, the total number of undocumented returnees reached 58,625 individuals during January 2021, consisting of 57,978 from Iran (30,636 spontaneous returnees and 27,342 deportees) and 647 from Pakistan (542 spontaneous returnees and 105 deportees).
During the same period, UNHCR’s border monitoring activities conducted through partners using individual and household level interviews reached a total of 6,866 returnees and deportees (4,812 M and 2,054 F) upon their entry into Afghanistan from Iran at Zaranj/Milak (2,557) and Islam Qala (745), and from Pakistan at Spin Boldak/Chaman (2,054) and Torkham (1,510). These include 4,660 single individuals and 2,206 heads of households who returned with their families. Some 5,133 (75%) were selected randomly for interviews while 1,733 (25%) interviews were self-selection. In general, the majority of returnees/deportees from Iran are single males.
Despite the requirements of a negative PCR COVID-19 test to cross the border from Afghanistan to Pakistan through Torkham (which is in effect as of 19 December 2020), during the reporting period, regular population movements (to/from Afghanistan) continued through Torkham and Spin Boldak crossing points. The requirement for PCR test caused an overcrowded situation and little attention of travelers to observe the recommended COVID-19 preventive measures (e.g. physical and social distancing). The requirement to present negative PRC test was not applied at Spin Boldak crossing point.