Loaded trucks in Torkham as thousands of Afghan returnees make their way back to Afghanistan from Pakistan. Credit: Maisam Shafiey/NRC

Afghans returning from Pakistan after expulsion order have nowhere to go, warn aid agencies

Published 02. Nov 2023
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) are warning of the rapidly rising numbers of Afghans returning from Pakistan and urging international donors to mobilise additional humanitarian funding to address their needs and avoid a new crisis. Furthermore, the three organisations call upon neighbouring countries to continue offering protection and refuge to all vulnerable Afghan refugees until conditions in their home country are conducive to a safe, sustainable and voluntary return.

Aid organisations NRC, DRC, and IRC have observed a dramatic surge in the number of people returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan since Pakistan’s announcement that all undocumented Afghans must vacate the country by 1 November or risk deportation. The daily number of arrivals, which now ranges between 9,000 and 10,000 individuals, marks a stark contrast to the previous average of approximately 300 individuals a day before the announcement on 15 September 2023. As many as 1.7 million people could be affected.

The conditions in which they arrive in Afghanistan are dire, with many having endured arduous journeys spanning several days, exposed to the elements, and often forced to part with their possessions in exchange for transportation.

The organisations' teams stationed in the areas where people are returning from Pakistan have reported chaotic and desperate scenes among those who have returned. For many, leaving their temporary refuge in Pakistan was not a matter of choice but a rushed necessity. "I am stressed and worried about what to do now. We used to sell tea in Pakistan, but what can we do here? There are no job opportunities in Afghanistan, and I don't have any property or house here," said one deported Afghan in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province.

NRC, DRC, and IRC share grave concerns about the prospects for survival and reintegration of returnees from Pakistan into Afghan society, particularly with the onset of winter. 

Neil Turner, NRC's country director in Afghanistan said: "The recent surge of Afghans returning from Pakistan has overwhelmed our resources and the fragile infrastructure in Afghanistan. People arrive in a terrible condition, having often sold what little they had to pay for the journey. We are deeply concerned about their well-being as well as the strain it places on our already stretched humanitarian efforts."

Zia Mayar, DRC's interim country director in Afghanistan said: "Our teams are on the ground witnessing the desperation of those returning to a country already grappling with immense challenges, and with no house or land to go back to. The Afghan people need increased support at a time where funding is sharply decreasing. We call on the international community to act swiftly to address this unfolding crisis."

Salma Ben Aissa, IRC's country director in Afghanistan said: "The situation in Afghanistan is dire. With an existing population of over six million internally displaced individuals living in dire conditions, the Afghans returning from Pakistan face a bleak future, particularly for those who have been living in Pakistan for decades. We urgently need international support to provide shelter, food, and healthcare for these vulnerable people."

Regrettably, Afghanistan, still reeling from decades of conflict, recent devastating earthquakes and a crippling economic crisis, has little to offer, leaving those who return with few prospects to rebuild their lives. The Afghan people need long-term sustainable solutions to end the humanitarian crisis, including much-needed development assistance that international donors do not currently fund.

Notes to editors

  • Out of the 4.4 million Afghan refugees estimated to be living in Pakistan, there are 1.73 million who have no legal documents to stay.
  • UNHCR has issued a non-return advisory to Afghanistan in August 2021. It was renewed in February 2023 and calls for a bar on forced returns of Afghan nationals, including asylum seekers who have had their claims rejected.
  • The daily number of arrivals of returnees from Pakistan to Afghanistan now ranges between 9,000 and 10,000 individuals, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
  • The Regional Refugee Response plan to support 7.3 million Afghans hosted in neighbouring countries, is only 15.4% funded out of the $613 million requested to meet the needs.
  • Over 29 million Afghans inside the country are currently in need of humanitarian assistance according to UN estimates, with 17.2 million people, 40 percent of the population, struggling to meet their basic food needs.
  • Aid operations in the country face a critical funding gap as humanitarian needs remain severe. As the end of the year draws near, the $3.2 billion appeal to help more than 29 million people across the country is just 36 per cent funded.
  • Photos from Afghanistan can be downloaded for free use here.
  • Video b-roll from Afghanistan can be downloaded for free use here.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

  • NRC global media hotline: media@nrc.no, +47 905 62329
  • Christian Jepsen, Regional Communications Adviser, NRC’s Asia and Latin America Regional Office: christian.jepsen@nrc.no, +254 706248391 (WhatsApp)
  • Nancy Dent, IRC Associate Director for Public Affairs & Communications, Asia & Europe Regions: nancy.dent@rescue.org, +44(0) 7946 139 182