This paper is the first in a series of three country case studies of second-generation Afghans in neighbouring countries: Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan. Funding for the studies has been provided by the European Commission (EC), administrated through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). AREU's previous research on Transnational Networks highlighted the existence of a specific information gap regarding the experiences and interests of the large group of second-generation Afghans residing in Pakistan and Iran, which initiated this research. These second-generation Afghans are defined in this study as those males and females aged 15 to 30 years who have spent more than half of their lives in Pakistan or Iran. Also of interest to the study are those same second-generation Afghans who have now returned to Afghanistan and spent at least six months in their homeland. According to data from the Registration of Afghans in Pakistan (2007), 74 percent of Afghans in Pakistan are less than 28 years old. The majority of them were born in Pakistan, have never experienced life in Afghanistan, or did so only at a very young age, and grew up in a very different environment from that of their parents and peers in Afghanistan. Therefore, to understand the characteristics of this large group of young Afghans in Pakistan and their perceptions toward return and reintegration has critical importance for policy making, informing debates about how to facilitate repatriation and reintegration processes, and how to best manage the Afghan population remaining in exile and the continuous movement across the border. The aim of this case study is to provide such understanding by exploring beneath the surface of the Yes/No responses about return intention, represented in existing quantitative data: Census of Afghans in Pakistan 2005 and Registration of Afghans in Pakistan 2007, to illustrate what struggles exist in return decision making among youth and young adult Afghans living in mostly urban areas of Peshawar, Quetta, and Karachi. The report's strength lies in its use of narratives and direct quotes from the purposively selected 71 respondents having varied backgrounds across gender, education level, socioeconomic status, degree of assimilation in host communities, etc.
- The process around deciding to return is highly complicated for second-generation Afghans. Various factors influence the decision - from material comforts (life facilities, shelter, and work opportunities) to the complexity of socio-cultural and emotional concerns, and the crucial interrelations between these - all of which change in relative importance over time in response to internal preferences and perceptions, and external events.
- Ideas about return are in constant flux reflecting changes in both individual experiences and regional dynamics. The majority of the respondents are observing the situation in Afghanistan and waiting for the right time to return; those having a clear negative perception of return are a minority. The option to repatriate is open-ended, with the time of action only coming when the balance of factors affecting that individual and/or family shifts to reduce the perceived risks of return.
- Although respect for elders shapes household power dynamics and the return decision making process, second-generation male heads of households and eldest sons tend to have the actual control over initiating and framing return discussions. In contrast, a limited group of single and married young females who have high interactions with external society - through work and education - also appear to possess a high level of involvement in decisions to return. Thus providing these groups with accurate information about life and opportunities in Afghanistan is important to swaying their and their families' decisions to return.
In formulating the voluntary repatriation and sustainable reintegration policies, the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, along with the international community should work toward:
- Improving the quality and relevance of information available about Afghanistan prior to return, especially among youth who are less familiar with the situation in their homeland, to remove perceived misconceptions and minimize the gap coming from idealistic expectations.
- Providing an intensive package of services to the poorer and less educated Afghans in Pakistan, including vocational training, housing, cash grants, and labour intensive work, to reduce their risks of failed return.
- Ensuring young returnees can access demand-driven skills development programmes linked to current market needs in both urban and rural areas, to reduce risks of un- and under-employment, especially for those who have low levels of education, skills, capital and connections.
- Expanding small business/enterprise development skills training and access to micro-credit for second-generation Afghan returnees.
- Ensuring an expanded supply of quality primary and secondary education (formal and religious), including in rural areas in Afghanistan, and improving teacher salaries to attract qualified personnel to assist in meeting the demand for education among returning second-generation Afghans and their children.
- Clarifying accreditation/certification procedures for students and disseminating the information widely to ensure transparency and accessibility.
- Reducing the supply constraints in higher education in Afghanistan to meet the increasing demands from young Afghan returnees over the long term, and decreasing population movement among educated Afghans in pursuit of higher education.
- Formalising the status of long-staying Afghan populations in Pakistan, regarding the right to work temporarily and clarifying the procedures for access to higher education.