A fresh surge of undocumented refugees have returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan this month, a humanitarian group said on Thursday, saying they felt “forced to leave” as Islamabad continues a crackdown.
The Norwegian Refugee Council said it had registered an average of 1,000 people crossing the border daily in the first two weeks of April, which was a “sharp increase” from the first three months of the year. “We are concerned that without proper registration documents Afghan refugees are unprotected,” Kate O’Rourke, head of the NRC in Afghanistan, said in a statement. “Families are telling us that without registration documents they felt forced to leave.”
Since 2016 hundreds of thousands of refugees have returned from Pakistan, where some had sheltered for decades, to Afghanistan amid accusations of coercion. They face an uncertain future in war-torn Afghanistan, which is already struggling to support thousands of internally displaced people fleeing fighting.
Those who were not registered in Pakistan do not have access to what little succor there is in Afghanistan, the NRC said.
Approximately 380,000 registered and 225,000 unregistered refugees returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan last year, the vast majority between July and December, the NRC added. Human Rights Watch issued a scathing report in February that accused Pakistan of coercion, threats and abuse in the mass repatriation, and the United Nations of complicity. The report said a combination of insecure legal status, the threat of deportation during winter, and police abuses—including extortion, arbitrary detention and night raids—had left the Afghan refugees with no choice but to leave. It also accused the U.N.’s refugee agency of effectively encouraging the exodus, and said the UNHCR should end the “fiction” that the returns are voluntary.
The U.N. has previously rejected the criticism. This month Pakistan resumed repatriating documented refugees.
Some Afghan refugees have been sheltering in Pakistan for decades, first fleeing over the border after the Soviet invasion of 1979. UNHCR and Pakistani officials have said some 1.34 million registered refugees remain in the country. A further half a million undocumented refugees are also estimated to be there, making Pakistan one of the world’s largest refugee-hosting nations.