A Long Way Home: Obstacles and Opportunities for IDP Return in Afghanistan

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While durable solutions still remain out of reach for Afghanistan’s internally displaced persons (IDPs), with estimates of 2.2 million IDPs last recorded in 2017, evidence related to durable solutions – and specifically to the return of IDPs – is widely lacking. Research on internal displacement has focused on setting local integration on the policy agenda, yet no research study in Afghanistan has focused on what happens after their return ‘home’.

As IDP numbers rise and the government continues to face constraints in applying its National Policy on Internally Displaced Persons, the humanitarian space necessary to address these needs and effectively support IDPs is also shrinking. Escalating conflict, lack of respect for international humanitarian law, and an overcautious approach to accessing displacement-affected areas severely limits the capacity to collect evidence and information to effectively support IDP populations in areas of displacement.

To support enhanced access to populations in need across Afghanistan, and achieve durable solutions processes for Afghanistan’s displaced, more knowledge is needed on the practices, attitudes, and preferences of IDPs themselves.

Research question and background

The research turned to IDPs and their communities in six key locations of spontaneous return to assess which factors contributed to the ability of IDP populations to return to their places of origin in a manner which is sustainable and dignified. The research focused on three phases of the return and reintegration process – the preparation phase (I), the return journey and immediate return phase (II) and the longer-term reintegration phase (III).

The approach used purely qualitative and community-based participatory methods. The research teams started in each of the six locations with a community consultation to identify priority themes. This allowed for a localised approach to the research, and for concrete recommendations to addressing community priorities. The synthesis report draws from the six case studies to highlight the factors which drive IDP returns as a process, including an examination of key challenges and opportunities across three phases, and the identification of key principles to support IDPs who engage in the return process.