Overview of 2018 returns
Over 820,000 Afghans returned from the Islamic Republics of Iran and Pakistan in 2018. This includes 13,600 refugees and 32,000 undocumented returnees from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and some 2,000 refugees and over 770,000 undocumented returnees from the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is important to note that the figures for undocumented returns include an unknown number of Afghans who move back and forth between Afghanistan and neighbouring countries, particularly the Islamic Republic of Iran, for employment, trade, or other temporary reasons. As such, it is unclear to what extend these figures represent sustainable returns or ongoing cross border movements.
Following the arrival of more than 610,000 refugees and undocumented Afghans in 2017, combined with ongoing conflict and drought related displacement across the country, the country’s capacity to absorb new arrivals remains under significant strain and negative coping mechanisms such as remigration are increasingly prevalent.
Returns in 2018 took place against a backdrop of increased internal displacement and record numbers of civilian casualties, where Afghanistan now ranks second behind Syria and ahead of Yemen for the most civilian casualties in the world.5 Over the course of 2018 just under 370,000 Afghans were newly displaced by conflict, while over 235,000 were forced to leave their homes due to the ongoing drought.6 The continuing insecurity and limited capacity to absorb returning Afghans and those displaced within Afghanistan frequently lead to secondary displacement and onward movement.
UNHCR, in coordination with the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation (MoRR) and partners, manages four Encashment Centres (ECs) where it provides a cash grant of an average USD 200 to each registered refugee returnee. The grant aims to cover transportation costs from the Afghan border and immediate needs upon return. Additional services provided at the ECs include basic health assessments and vaccinations (delivered by Ministry of Public Health supported by WHO and UNICEF), mine risk awareness (coordinated by the United Nations Mine Action Service and delivered by the Danish Demining Group), information on education, access to land, and procedures to obtain civil documentation, a transit facility for overnight accommodation, and hygiene kits provided by United Nations Population Fund. At the ECs,
UNHCR also conducts household level interviews to assess the voluntary nature of returns and to collect data on return trends, including reasons for return and protection risks in the country of asylum and during return movements. Persons with specific needs are jointly identified by UNHCR and the Directorate of Refugee and Repatriation (DoRR) and referred to service providers for assessment and assistance.
In addition, UNHCR implements community-based protection initiatives to assist returnees, IDPs and host populations who are identified through UNHCR’s protection monitoring to be in need of protection assistance. In 2018 UNHCR assisted over 6,600 persons with specific needs, including IDPs, refugee returnees, undocumented returnees, refugees, and members of host communities, with cash or in-kind protection assistance (which also benefitted some 50,000 persons indirectly). UNHCR provided winterization assistance (multi-purpose cash grants of USD 200 per family, along with non-food items) to nearly 50,000 vulnerable returnee, IDP and host community families (350,000 individuals) across 34 provinces while coordinating the winterisation response as lead agency for the Emergency Shelter/NFI Cluster.