World humanitarian day in sight, no reintegration plan for refugees

After spending years and even decades outside their homes, most refugees always wait for the day that their home countries are declared safe for return. However, most of the times, the reality of the situation is not something they are prepared for. In most cases, those who return home tend to be far worse than they were in the host nation and in most cases prefer to go back despite the risks.

According to new research from the World Bank and the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR), Afghan refugees who returned home tended to be worse off financially than refugees who stayed behind in Pakistan. Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants who have been in Pakistan return to Afghanistan each year, but on getting home, the jobs are scarce and so is the help to reintegrate.

Afghanistan, like several other countries whose people have sought refuge elsewhere due to instability, is still slowed down by the conflict hence there is limited aid for basic needs, jobs, and support for reintegration.

Most host countries, just like Pakistan, long considered a safe haven for refugees, have made it increasingly clear that the millions of registered refugees and other undocumented migrants need to go back to their countries.

Pakistan has done incredibly well to host people from Afghanistan for as long as 40 years since the displacement and is one of the countries hosting the most refugees. However, a time comes when things have to keep moving and refugees get to return home but this becomes a humanitarian challenge especially in cases where the home country is not yet safe to return to.

Although Pakistan, for instance, did extend to June 2020 the deadline for expiry of identity cards allowing nearly 1.4 million registered refugees to legally stay in the country, a previous 30th June 2019 deadline and a series of other short-term extensions put Afghans and aid groups on edge.

As Afghan returnees get to their home country, they are screened and only offered short-term aid. Afterward, they are largely left on their own to face an uncertain future and no one follows up on how they get on with it. In most of their former homes, there still is no peace and the regions are occasioned by airstrikes and altercations between rival groups.

In Afghanistan, all is not peaceful yet as there are surges in violence as the Taliban and forces aligned to Islamic State battle each other and the besieged government for control. Civilians and armed forces people are continually being killed by the conflicts which last year alone, injured or claimed the lives of more than 10,000 civilians. According to figures from the United Nations, half a million were displaced throughout the country as well.

Even as the violence continues, more Afghan refugees are crossing the border from Pakistan. The UN agencies are preparing a contingency aid plan for 700,000 returnees this year while some 400,000 are expected to return from Iran, which is also deporting Afghans in large numbers.

Although the Afghan government says it is trying to help the returnees, it has resettled only a few thousand people over a period of three years. Both local and international humanitarian agencies say they’re overstretched as it is, and they fear a mass influx will add to the instability.

Rights groups, on the other hand, say neither the government nor the donors have tackled the returnees’ most pressing long-term needs which are jobs, schools, and a secure place to live.

In 2017 alone, more than 600,000 Afghans returned home and the authorities and aid groups in are bracing for higher numbers this in 2019. According to the returnees, most have preferred to go back home despite the current situation due to fear deportation, harassment, or worsening job prospects in the host country.

The uncertainty of the future and other obstacles, however, await them as they try to rebuild their lives. Since most returnees are from districts where security is still a big issue, many find their ancestral homes caught behind a shifting frontline.

In a January survey of returned Afghans by the Norwegian Refugee Council, violence forced seven out of 10 people interviewed to flee again after they returned home.

The displacements together with the ongoing addition of new returnees have led to a growing number of crowded informal settlements across the country over the last five years. In the past three years, less than one percent of the returned families have received land from the government agency.

While most Afghans returnees have preferred to stay home despite the challenges, others have, due to the unpromising set of circumstances, preferred to go back to Pakistan despite the threat of harassment and deportation.