This boy is exhausted and malnourished after his family felt forced to flee their lives as refugees in Pakistan and return to Afghanistan.  He lies underneath a half-collapsed, aging tent. (Photo: NRC/Jim Huylebroek)
A young Afghan boy is exhausted after his family fled their lives as refugees in Pakistan and returned to Afghanistan. He lies underneath a half-collapsed, aging tent. Photo: NRC/Jim Huylebroek

Urgent humanitarian needs for Afghan returnees

Press release|Published 21. Aug 2016
Thousands of families who have returned from Pakistan to Afghanistan in the past month are in urgent need of assistance – and only a few have received any support so far. “These people are falling between the cracks. There's an urgent need for assistance, or the consequences may be fatal”, warned Country Director of NRC in Afghanistan, Kate O'Rourke.

In the last four weeks, around 60,000 unregistered refugees have returned from Pakistan to Afghanistan, according to International Organization for Migration (IOM) — a sudden increase. Because these people have not been registered as refugees in Pakistan, they do not receive the same support as registered refugees do upon return.

Most of the returnees are heading to Nangarhar, and families the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) visited there last week are clearly struggling to survive.

“It is heart-breaking to see the situation some of the families are living under. Children appear visibly malnourished and families are lacking clean drinking water, shelter and sanitation facilities,” said NRC's Protection and Advocacy Adviser in Afghanistan Will Carter, after visiting the area.

A grandfather he spoke with in Behsud District had just returned with his family: 

“My family arrived four days ago with nowhere to go, but found this compound that we share with three other families. There are 35 of us together, sleeping mostly in the open, with no drinking water close by. We don't know what to do, and have no money”, said Abdul Qadir.

Between 8-14 August, an average of more than 2600 undocumented Afghans returned every day, according to figures from the Afghan Directorate of Refugees and Repatriation and IOM. More than two thirds of the people coming are children. There are estimated to be over a million unregistered Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

“The number of people returning has increased rapidly during the last weeks, and we fear that the crisis we are currently witnessing could only be the tip of the iceberg”, said Carter.

IOM has warned that they are only able to support a small proportion of the people who have arrived with some very basic assistance, and current stocks for even these numbers will be exhausted in a couple of months.

“The International community must come together to respond to this suffering. Humanitarian agencies urgently need to assess and respond to the needs of returnees in eastern Afghanistan and donor countries must provide the necessary funding”, said O'Rourke.