Monday, November 28, 2016

Afghanistan's Grim Realities

"With all these returns from Pakistan and Iran as well, and looming returns from Europe, it's a perfect recipe for a perfect storm because that puts a strain on the capacity of the government to respond."
"It's a poverty competition here now."
Laurence Hart, head, International Organization for Migration, Kabul

"Like all other states, Pakistan is prohibited from refouling – that is, forcibly returning – registered refugees in any manner whatsoever to their home country, and has therefore committed mass refoulement."
"If UNHCR resumes its cash grant on 1 March while Pakistan maintains its 31 March deportation deadline for registered refugees – or extends it by just a few months – then UNHCR will become complicit in mass refoulement. That’s because registered refugees will feel they have no choice but to take UN money to go home ‘voluntarily’ before Pakistan kicks them out with nothing."
Gerry Simpson, Human Rights Watch

"The return of registered Afghan refugees from Pakistan is a repatriation in less than ideal circumstances and is the result of a number of factors. The Afghans we see daily deciding to return are making extremely difficult decisions and UNHCR is doing everything  we can to assist them. We continue to speak up for the rights of Afghan refugees while they are in Pakistan and to intervene on their behalf."
UNHCR Statement of self-defence
Families recently returned from Pakistan pitch tents provided by the Norwegian Refugee Council near Jalalabad -- Enayatullah Azad -- NRC
Afghan refugees, some of whom have lived for decades outside Afghanistan during the years of conflict are now being forcibly returned to their country of origin. Among them are those who were born abroad, who have no idea what they are returning to. By year's end, one-and-a-half million migrants will have returned to Afghanistan. They left their country because of the unsettling violence and threat to their lives, and they are returning, mostly against their will, once again facing violence of a level comparable to what existed in 2001.

Pakistan has issued ultimatums to those Afghans living in the country without the required paperwork to make their presence acceptably 'legal'. Even some of those with papers are being evicted. Pakistan military and police have been oppressing refugees, threatening them, making them feel increasingly insecure and frightened, ensuring that they will realize they have little option but to return to Afghanistan. Even Europe has been returning Afghan migrants through a repatriation agreement signed with Afghanistan.

So from Europe will stream tens of thousands of migrants whose requests for asylum were refused. An even larger number of Afghans is being forced to return by Iran. The harassment that the migrants suffer from government agencies eager to see the last of them has encouraged the refugees to take part in a departure that they will most certainly view as not being in their best interests, either short- or long-term, given the country they return to is fiercely embattled.

Afghanistan's cities must deal with the presence of expanding tent camps and the shanty towns that house their own inner-displaced, with the understanding that they will soon increase in size and numbers. Humanitarian aid groups confront the situation in the realization they haven't adequate budgets to enable them to help care for so many new arrivals. Many of them accustomed to years of life in squalid camp conditions.

Even without the inflow of returning migrants, Afghanistan's struggle with the Taliban has resulted in increasing numbers of rural people fleeing homes located in areas of conflict. Some 600,000 people have fled in the past two months alone, displaced from their homes, adding to the ranks of the internal refugees within Afghanistan. With the return of the refugees from abroad the country will be faced with the prospect of three million displaced people altogether, few of whom are able to return to their homes located in war-torn areas.

From Europe, Norway has returned 442 Afghans unwilling but forced to go. Germany has returned 2,900 Afghans, almost all of them returning voluntarily, many of whom spent years, sometimes decades, in host countries, some having been born there, now adults with families of their own. "We're dealing with the population who left Afghanistan in the 1980s and don't know this country", observed Maya Ameratunga, of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Trucks piled with household goods and children pull up at the Samarkhel Encashment Center near Jalalabad, a center operated by the United Nations refugee agency, catching traffic from the main border crossing with Pakistan. Daily, four hundred or so families enter through the center, receive a cash payment from the UN agency to help start new lives (about $400 per family member) to last them for a six-month period.

They return not to a land liberated from conflict, beckoning their return to take up new lives of aspirational hope in a safe environment, but because pressure and discrimination are propelling and compelling them to return. "When you are harassed, intimidated, rounded up by police, taken to court, forced to pay bribes, you are being forced to leave", commented Mohammad Ismail, of the refugee office of the United Nations.

And the inescapable truth is that Afghanistan is in the position it now faces itself with, not only because of the Soviet invasion, but because in response to the Russian presence in Afghanistan Pakistan trained and armed and protected the Taliban from its original insurgency to its current state of threatening conflict with a government desperately trying to free itself from the shackles of threats and ongoing deadly attacks. It is Pakistan's malicious interference with Afghanistan and complicity with the Taliban and al-Qaeda that has continued to stoke the fires of Islamist terrorism that Afghans face.


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