Pakistan

The Refugee Dilemma: Afghans in Pakistan between expulsion and failing aid schemes


Afghan returnees crossing the border at Torkham in Nangrahar province. Photo: Press TV

Nearly 52,000 Afghans living in Pakistan have, within the past ten weeks, packed their belongings and crossed the border back into Afghanistan – more than twice as many as in the whole 12 months of 2014. This started after an attack of Pakistani Taleban on a public army school in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, on 16 December, killing 132 children and at least nine adults. The attack had allegedly been planned in Afghanistan and there were rumours that Afghans might have been among the facilitators. This compelled the Pakistani government to include the repatriation of refugees in its new anti-terrorism action plan and to launch operations in Afghan neighbourhoods and refugees camps. At the same time, the countdown is running on the validity of the ID cards that allows registered refugees to stay in Pakistan. AAN’s Christine Roehrs has been looking into the current politics around Afghan refugees in Pakistan. She also looks at what fate awaits the returnees in their home country and finds there is not much of a welcome here either.

Humanitarian workers have described the returnees coming on foot, bundles over their shoulders, or in large trucks, rented together with other families, with dozens of people squeezed in the back and around them, boxes, mattresses and suitcases piled high. Theirs were hasty decampments, driven by anxiety and pressure exerted by the Pakistani authorities. Returnees (if that is the correct word to also include those who were born and have grown up in Pakistan) have told stories of house raids, eviction notices, landlords being asked not to extend rental agreements and extortion. Breadwinners of families had been taken into custody, with police telling their relatives they would get them back as soon as they showed up with all their belongings packed and ready to leave the country immediately.

The numbers of Afghans coming across the border has fallen back since, from more than 7800 in the first week of February – the peak of the returnee wave – to more than 5400 in the last week of February (for detailed figures see (1)). However, this sudden mass exodus was not a freak occurrence. It is result of a fundamentally changed stance of Pakistan towards the Afghans the country has been hosting for more than three decades, and it is possible that there is no going back to the previous way of handling what the UN calls one of “the largest protracted refugee communities in the world.” About 2.6 million Afghans live in Pakistan today.

The on-goings of the past ten weeks have also made clear that the Afghan refugees in Pakistan need more than just humanitarian help. This includes tackling a huge, still unaddressed issue: the difference in the protection and treatment of the registered the 1.6 million refugees and the undocumented Afghans living in Pakistan (estimated at around one million). While the registered refugees in Pakistan are, somewhat, protected from deportation and have the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR lobbying for them, there is no one speaking on behalf of the unregistered Afghans. Police raids against them are continuing, still driving more than 500 people across the border and into Afghanistan every day.

On this side of the border, however, the state seems increasingly less able to deal with this large category of citizens that is only likely to grow in 2015. This is partly also due to the reduction of aid money. International agencies themselves have less to spend as the crises in Iraq and Syria are eating away on their funds. And the Afghan government, suffering from massive budget problems, too, has slashed its development budget for the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation from 1.2 million dollars in 2014 to 250,000 dollars this year.

What has happened – and how is it influencing Afghan-Pakistani relations?

What has happened, rather unnoticed at first, but swiftly, is that the Pakistani government, on 25 December 2014, on day nine after the Peshawar school attack, announced a new anti-terrorism action plan. The second-to-last of the 20 points was “the repatriation of Afghan refugees.” (Other measures included special courts for the speedy trial of terrorists, the formation of a special anti-terrorism force, the regularisation of madrassas and eliminating space for terrorists in media.) The plan did not distinguish between registered, ‘protected’ refugees and undocumented Afghans, causing, in the following weeks, much indiscriminate action against both groups. It also reinforced anti-Afghan feelings that, in some parts of society, had been there before. In the province where the attack took place, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Chief Minister Pervez Khattak had already, on 19 December 2014, three days after the attack, convened “an emergency cabinet meeting to demand the immediate removal of all Afghan refugees.” He justified this by saying the attack had been planned in Afghanistan.

At the time of the announcement of the anti-terrorism plan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did not explain why he had included the repatriation of Afghans. Afghan officials told AAN bitterly it had been “an attempt to deflect the blame for the Pakistani security failure.” A Human Rights Watch statement from 22 February, too, demanded “Pakistani officials should not be scapegoating Afghans because of the Taliban’s atrocities in Peshawar.” It is unclear, though, if there was more than just an attempt to shift the blame. AAN was told by a Pakistani source with an ear close to both the federal government and that of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province that, early on, there had been indications that some Afghan refugees had indeed had a part in the attack, helping, for example, to facilitate access to the school. Pakistani army spokesman Asim Bajwa did confirm in a press briefing on 12 February that although “most of the plotters were Pakistani nationals,” the attack had been planned in Afghanistan, leaving the impression some of the plotters might have been Afghans.

The Pakistani media quickly picked up on the suspicions, repeating them with often unclear sourcing. A 23 December report, for example, said that “six attackers have been identified, of which two are Afghan nationals, two residents of Khyber Agency and the other two hail from Swat.” Another outlet reported arrests of “Afghan canteen staffers”; weapons had been stashed in the school’s canteen days before the attackers entered the school, it said. None of these ‘facts’, however, were confirmed by government sources.

What is publicly known is that the mastermind behind the mass murder was Mullah Fazlullah, leader of the (since split) (2) Pakistani Taleban umbrella organisation Tehrik-e Taleban-e Pakistan (TTP) (he claimed responsibility for the attack on 17 December), and that he is currently suspected of hiding in Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan. Altogether, 27 men have been identified as having been involved in the attack. Nine of them, said army spokesman Asim Bajwa on 12 February, have already been killed, including the attackers themselves. Six had been arrested in Pakistan and six in Afghanistan. Six were still at large at the time of the briefing.

It was also the fact that Fazlullah is likely to be in Afghanistan and six other suspected perpetrators have already been arrested here that has compelled Pakistan to improve relations with Kabul. The six arrested in Afghanistan still seem to be in the custody of the Afghan National Security Directorate (NDS), with no information available if they are Afghan or Pakistani. It is likely that the handover of these suspects was also among the topics discussed during the visit of army chief Raheel Sharif to Kabul on Tuesday, 17 February, his third since the attack (the first had taken place just one day after the Peshawar attack). He was accompanied by the new head of the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI, Rizwan Akhtar, who, too, had come to Kabul previously. Both saw President Ghani and CEO Abdullah and again requested the fast capture of Mullah Fazlullah.

For now, both sides seem to find each other useful. Seldom have Pakistani officials said so many nice things about Afghanistan. (3) The need for cooperation may have even handed the Afghan government some leverage over the Pakistani state to address the refugee issue and prevent further deportations or ‘repatriation.’ Anyhow, the inclusion of the Afghan refugees in the anti-terrorism action plan has created some urgency. More meetings have been scheduled. The new Afghan minister for refugees and repatriation, Sayed Hussain Alemi Balkhi, has arrived in Pakistan two days ago, on 8 March. First thing, he addressed a large gathering of refugee elders in Islamabad. A “comprehensive repatriation strategy” will be prepared, he promised, and that a “13 member committee under the leadership of President Ghani” would be formed to supervise the progress. Balkhi will also meet with Pakistan’s foreign policy advisor Sartaj Aziz and the Minister for States and Frontier Regions, Abdul Qadir Baloch. Quasi-prime minister Abdullah Abdullah, too, recently announced that he would be traveling to Islamabad to discuss the fate of the Afghan refugees. From Pakistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s chief minister is expected to visit Kabul in March.

The registered Afghan refugees: identity cards running out and ‘refugee fatigue’

Two issues will be on the agenda during these meetings. One is the fate of the registered refugees. Their so-called PoR (Proof of Registration) cards that officially allow them to stay in Pakistan, are only valid until the end of 2015. So far, there is conflicting news about what will happen to them then.

On 7 January, Pakistan’s minister of frontier regions and the minister of defence, along with the interior ministers of all four provinces and officials from the intelligence agencies decided that the permission to stay for Afghan refugees would end on 31 December 2015. Eight weeks later, probably helped by the awareness that the slightly improved relations with Afghanistan would come crashing down again if the country’s weak economy and barely existing social services had to face the return of hundreds of thousands of poor Afghans, the mood has slightly changed. “The Pakistanis are more flexible now than they were a month ago,” Afghan refugees minister Balkhi confirmed in an interview with AAN in mid-February. He noted that the Pakistani government, after some Afghan and international protests against the harassment of registered refugees, had sent out a letter to all provincial interior ministries saying that their arrest was not permitted.

The Afghan side will now propose an extension of the refugee identity cards to 2018 or 2019. Similar haggling has been played out since 2006 when the introduction of the cards made refugee status a thing of eternal anxiety, limited timeframes and livelihoods that could be terminated at any time. However, according to a source close to the talks, the Pakistanis, “are currently very focused on the repatriation.” Another said, “don’t expect a fast breakthrough here. Pakistan does not want the refugees anymore, and the national action plan against terrorism gives them a convenient hook to address what they perceive as a burden to economy, society and security. The government does not want to extend refugee cards. It wants to discuss how to improve the incentives for Afghans to go back – and as soon as possible. At the same time, they know that they cannot release millions of refugees back into Afghanistan. It is a dilemma. These talks will take time.”

The international community, too, will strongly lobby against ‘voluntary’ returns on a mass scale. Such returns would destabilise Afghanistan (and need huge amounts of money to provide returnees with at least initial assistance, one Pakistani plan from 2013 was costed at about 90 million dollars.) It seems somewhat optimistic, though, that there will be no hundreds of thousands of Afghans pushed out of Pakistan any time soon. The UNHCR in Afghanistan currently plans for the return of ‘only’ 172,000 – registered – refugees in 2015. It actually budgets for even fewer, for around 50,000, as there have never been more than 39,000 returnees in any of the past few years, with an all time low of 16,000 in 2014 due to elections and spikes in insecurity. “We are preparing for other scenarios, too, though,” one staffer told AAN.

The undocumented refugees – expulsion plans and search operations

Things look much bleaker regarding the other issue to discuss: the fate of the around one million undocumented Afghans in Pakistan. They made up the majority of those who crossed the border back into Afghanistan in the last two months. Because they have no papers and so form an anonymous, hard-to-grasp mass, they are also the ones who attract the most suspicion in Pakistan. “We consider unregistered Afghan refugees a security threat, that is why law enforcement agencies have been directed to push them back home,” a senior official of the Ministry of Interior told reporters of the Pakistani Express Tribune 2 March. Forced repatriation is particularly happening in the provinces that host many Afghan refugees. First on this list is Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) where up to 900,000 – 62 per cent – of all registered refugees live, along with a large portion of the unregistered ones and the majority of the more than 1.2 million Pakistanis internally displaced by military operations in North Waziristan. Large Afghan communities are also hosted by Balochistan and Punjab, with 20 and 11 per cent respectively.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, trucks with loudspeakers mounted on them drove up and down streets calling upon Afghans to leave the country within three days “or face action.” Afghan shopkeepers were asked to sell their businesses. The police continue to raid Afghan dominated neighbourhoods and refugee camps (see for example here and here), arresting hundred of “suspects.” Operations often seem directed both at looking for terror suspects and rounding up illegal Afghans, sometimes seemingly – or deliberately? – confusing the two. Those who do not have valid paper have cases lodged against them as per the Foreign Act, a preparation for deportation .

But reports about police raids or expulsion plans for Afghans also come from provinces with relatively small numbers of refugees such as Azad Kashmir (less than one per cent) and Sindh (four per cent).

The Sindh government, for example, has said it will launch a campaign “to repatriate illegal and unregistered Afghan refugees by the end of this year.“ Behind this is probably the war the authorities of Sindh’s capital Karachi are fighting with Pakistani Taleban who fled there from military operations in Swat or North Waziristan. Many of these commanders and fighters have moved into Pashto-speaking neighbourhoods that are also favoured by the Afghan refugee community. However, it is “very hard”, says Karachi based journalist Omar R Quraishi, “to establish a connection between the groups and to say with certainty that the one is sheltering the other.” There is no concrete data to support this, he says. “I don’t know how sending the Afghans home will help with our terrorism problem. Cleaning out the Afghan neighbourhoods in Karachi is an indiscriminate action tackling everything Pashtun and hoping to hit the right people.” It would also hit many women and children who make up 80 per cent of the Afghan community.

Resentment in the host communities

Operations against Afghan refugees do not only have to do with the implementation of the anti-terrorism action plan, though. They are embedded in long-term resentment in the host community. Particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Afghans are blamed for crime, unemployment and the persistent militancy. The UNHCR speaks of an “increasing refugee fatigue.” One Pakistani analyst said it had been KP’s provincial government that had put the most pressure on the federal government to include the repatriation of refugees in the anti-terrorism action plan. The province consistently shows, together with the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, FATA, the lowest human development indicators and the highest youth unemployement, while the refugee population, according to this UNHCR report (p 42), is growing by 83,000 each year.

IPS news agency, an outlet focused on development and human rights issues, collected some  voices for an article on 17 February about Afghan refugees. Reading it, one gets an impression of the bitter feelings towards them and also of the narrative that is being conveyed to the Pakistani public:

“About 80 percent of crimes in KP are committed by Afghans,” alleged KP Information Minister Mushtaq Ghani. “They are involved in murders and kidnapping for ransom, but they disappear after committing these crimes and we cannot trace them. Therefore we demand that those having PoR be restricted to camps, and those without [their papers] sent home.

… According to Ghulam Nabi, vice president of the KP Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Afghans run 10,000 of the estimated 20,000 shops in Peshawar; but since they are not registered residents, they are not subject to the same taxes as Pakistani shop-owners. … His department has been “urging” the federal government to repatriate Afghans so locals can continue to do their trade. He also alleged that refugees’ demand for housing has pushed rents to unaffordable prices.

There are different voices as well, though. The Chairman of the traditionally pro-Afghan Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), Mahmood Khan Achakzai, said the mistreatment of Pashtuns and Afghans in Pakistan was “not tolerable anymore. Afghans are our brothers and it is up to them to decide where they want to live. If they are willing to live here, they are most welcome.” Khalid Aziz, a Pakistani political analyst and activist, concedes that Afghan refugee camps are sometimes used to radicalise people, but he also says “it is wrong to generalise and colour everyone as a terrorist. There is a large majority of good people who just want peace and safety.” His civil society group, Riport, will in mid-March bring together the Afghan ambassador in Pakistan, Janan Mosazai, Chief Minister Khattak and representatives of the Afghan community for a conference to discuss how to bring back a better understanding between Afghans and Pakistanis living in the province.

No mass expulsion – but more ‘involuntary’ returns

For now, it seems as if the Pakistani government has been walking a thin line between trying to honour a Tripartite Agreement with Afghanistan and the UNHCR which says the return of refugees should be voluntary (by not – yet – touching registered Afghan refugees) and still giving the impression to its own people that it is acting upon the anti-terrorism action plan (by pounding on the undocumented Afghans.)

It is likely that in this way at least another several thousand Afghans will be driven back to Afghanistan until a solution is found under which the returns can be stopped. It is unclear what such a solution could look like given that no international agency speaks for the unregistered Afghans and the Afghan government does not have much to offer to those returning – or to the Pakistani government to keep them. Meanwhile, the number of undocumented refugees going back to Afghanistan remains at a high level. For example, according to agencies watching the border, on 27 February, 511 Afghans went across and an 28 February 513 people. The number of deportations of Afghans in February, compared to January, rose again by another seven per cent, to a total of 3,047 cases. Until the end of February 44,256 undocumented Afghans left Pakistan. The registered refugees leaving only accounted for 7721 people.

What happens to those who come back to Afghanistan?

What is baffling, looking at this trend, is that most of the current thinking about refugees focuses on those who are still in Pakistan. There is little mention of the ones who have already crossed the border – or who will do so in the future. Afghans return. They are in Afghanistan. And then what?

And then – not much. There is little immediate assistance and even fewer long-term reintegration efforts.

Many of those who crossed the border in Torkham, Nangrahar, in the past two months vanished once they were in Afghanistan. Getting almost no assistance, they are now likely to expand the numbers of Afghans living precariously. Most were not even given any documentation that would serve as proof that they were entitled, for example, to Afghan ID cards. AAN was told that the staff of the local directorate of the ministry for refugees had been asked to provide everyone crossing the border with proof of their status, but this did not happen, allegedly because the local authorities feared it would encourage people to stay and ask for assistance where none could be given, posing an additional burden on the local economy and land allocations. The governor of Nangrahar province has made it clear that he did not want them in his province, unless they originally hailed from Nangrahar.

Thousands reportedly went on to Kunar, Laghman and Kunduz, currently very insecure areas. Others went on to Kabul, hoping for help in the proximity of the powerful and settling in already overcrowded informal settlements. But even in the capital, there is not much help to be had. A United Nations summary of winterisation efforts from the end of October 2014 said “the level of assistance in the Kabul Informal Settlements will be reduced significantly,” due to an overall decrease of funds as well as a “re-prioritisation” of funds. The latter is mostly because of another refugee crisis: the hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis who fled into Khost and Paktika after last year’s Pakistani military operations in North Waziristan (a UNHCR update from 18 February details 42,031 refugee families or 298,951 individuals registered; not online).

Humanitarians now estimate that 40 per cent of Afghan returnees are “at risk at becoming vulnerable” – humanitarian speak for families who may, for example, end up with no shelter, little food and children sent onto the streets to earn money.

Underfunded, understaffed agencies

It was basically one overwhelmed and underfunded agency – the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) –, along with the similarly understaffed and underfunded Directorate for Refugees and Repatriation in Nangrahar (DoRR) – that was trying to handle the surge in people crossing the border. The IOM has, since 2008, been mandated with the assistance of returning undocumented Afghans (while the UNHCR tracks the registered refugees – a small minority of the current cases) and works at three border crossings – Torkham, Nangrahar province, Zaranj, Nimruz province and Islam Qala, Herat province. However, due to funding constraints, IOM’s Cross Border Return and Reintegration Program has just been cut in half, and it has had to let most of its implementing partners go.

“We are down to helping the most desperate,” IOM’s head Richard Danziger said recently. With the funds available, the organisation can assist about ten per cent of the total caseload – 4009 people by end of February. For this, it tries to identify the ‘most vulnerable.’ But who is vulnerable is a tough decision to make, as nearly all returnees are poor, with most of them having many children, no land, no business and few skills. One of the five border ‘screeners’ (the other four are busy counting and interviewing returnees) watches the returnees walk by and picks out people that look as if they fit the criteria: unaccompanied minors, families that are headed by women, elderly, sick people and so on. Only those are then offered some help – a night or two in a ‘transit centre’ (ten rooms), a meal, hygiene or kitchen kits, a phone call if needed and transport to the next destination. If people know where they want to go. There is neither staff, nor money to provide any more help to any more people. “Due to staff and time constraints, this is a rather random process,” one staffer said unhappily. “There is always the question: how many are we missing out on?”

“In the short-term, we need more screeners and more non-food items to hand out. For the longer-term, we need psycho-social support for the returnees,” she urged. “And it would make sense to target provinces that get many returnees with shelter programs and vocational trainings.”

A lack of long-term reintegration programs

For now, however, anything apart from the initial support at the border is a matter of chance. There is no mechanism to hand over data or cases to other agencies or ministries for following up. Some of  the returnees – those who were registered as refugees in Pakistan – can pick up 150 dollars as a “short term integration grant” and an additional 30 to 70 dollars for transport costs at one of the so-called encashment centres in Jalalabad, Kabul, Gardez, Herat and Kandahar. But with a 50 kilogramme sack of flour currently costing 25 dollars and a 16 litre canister of oil 20 dollars, this help might last them a month or two at the most. (For years there has been discussions about increasing this grant, for example “by a subsistence allowance for three months,” but this is currently still at least “several months off,” AAN was told by UNHCR Afghanistan staff.) Then, the assistance, most often, ends, and many returnees join the ranks of the internally displaced (their situation is little better; for more, see this previous AAN report). More than 40 per cent of the altogether 5.8 million between 2002 and 2013, “have not been able to reintegrate into their home communities, resulting in significant secondary displacement,” the UNHCR said in August 2013. 60 per cent had had difficulties “rebuild[ing] their lives.”

The refugee portfolio is a graveyard of ideas and promises to reintegrate returnees back into society and labour market. A plan for “48 towns for returnees in 22 provinces” that then Afghan minister Jamaheer Anawari promised in 2012 never came through. Another example is the Solutions Strategy for Refugees that the UNHCR developed together with the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran in 2012. It is quite an impressive read with its plans to create “conditions for sustainable reintegration and reducing secondary migration” by introducing “multi-sectoral, community-level programming” (well, at least in “up to 48 selected locations”). But this programming has never really taken off. This was partly because of the costs: the implementation of phase 2012 to 2014 in Afghanistan alone was budgeted at more than 860 million dollars, and for all three countries, costs were put at almost two billion dollars (for funding gaps, see also here). Other factors hampering the implementation were the decreasing access to provinces and the shrinking of funds for the region. Before the London conference, the most recent Afghanistan donor conference (where no new money was pledged, see this previous AAN report), the UNHCR published a position paper, saying that “The implementation of the next phase [of the Solution Strategy] (2015-2017) will require reinvigorated engagement and support of the international community.”

Reading between the diplomatic lines, this means: not enough money has been pledged yet.

It’s a development crisis, not a humanitarian one

Here, the Torkham crisis fits into a wider picture. With millions of people living in displacement for years, sometimes decades, within or outside Afghanistan’s borders, the situation is obviously not a humanitarian crisis anymore. It is a development crisis, and it requires different actors to get their act together. While humanitarian work is focused on fast, time-bound responses, the refugee situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan needs more than such repeated replay of short-term aid which creates dependency on minimal hand-outs that prevent starvation, but is never enough to improve lives in a lasting way.

This debate is part of the already mentioned Solution Strategy for Refugees. It is also an integral part of Afghanistan’s new IDP Policy. Both papers rightly suggest that hoping for return when it is unlikely to happen anytime soon is callous as it just puts human lives ‘on hold’. It is also unfair to the communities that host these displaced people, as unassisted masses can become a burden on both economy and society. This is why humanitarians want at least the option for refugees and internally displaced people to resettle where they had fled to instead of authorities insisting on their return. These areas would then need to be prepared for hosting refugees so that they are not being plunged into economic and social difficulties. (4)

As the Solutions Strategy for Refugees points out (p 29), part of this must be urban planning, including irrigation and transport options. There should also be livelihood projects and vocational trainings, credit projects, small enterprise development and efforts to improve local governance. It would require youth programs that help avoid unemployed, disenfranchised refugees and returnees falling prey to recruiters of the insurgency. UNHCR, OCHA or IOM alone cannot do this. Agencies such as UN Habitat, UNDP, the ILO, as well as governmental aid agencies and NGOs with a development focus would need to step in.

AAN was told that such schemes may be part of the negotiations that begin in Pakistan with Afghanistan and international agencies on 11 March. Offering intensified efforts might indeed help steer the Pakistani government away from more deportations. Also large registration drives for the so far undocumented Afghans will be part of the negotiations. Where the funds for such enterprises should come from is unclear, though. There is some pondering to contact the so-called ‘non-traditional donors,’ AAN was told. For Afghan-Pakistani issues, the biggest are India, Saudi-Arabia and Iran. Of these, however, only Saudi-Arabia has a more or less neutral relationship to Pakistan and might want to help it out.

Meanwhile, the number of people in need and on the move is growing by the day. There are those nearly 300,000 Pakistani refugees in Khost and Paktika. There are more than 800,000 Afghans who are internally displaced mostly because of conflict – with the consistent fighting causing more displacement in 2015. Added to these are the more than 52,000 newly arrived returnees from Pakistan. And hundreds are still crossing the border every day.

 

(1) The author compiled these figures from briefings kindly provided by the UNHCR in Pakistan and Afghanistan (the agency tracks the Afghans that have registered as refugees) and by IOM Afghanistan (that assists undocumented Afghans returning to Afghanistan). Also all other figures were provided by these agencies, many of them are not yet online. UNHCR Pakistan saw altogether 7,721 registered refugees leave Pakistan and return to Afghanistan in January and February (3,879 in January, 3842 in February) – while during the same time in the previous year only 612 registered refugees left Pakistan. For the first week of February it details 915 individuals crossing the border, for the last 1.061. This means the number of registered refugees seeking repatriation, albeit not very high, is not decreasing.

The number of undocumented Afghans returning is much higher. The IOM saw in January and February 44,256 Afghans return from Pakistan (this includes 3,074 deportations) – more than double as much as in all 12 months of 2014 (21,692). Numbers overall decreased, but are now stagnating on a high level. In the first week of February, 6895 returnees were counted, in the last still 4,409.

(2) Background here and here.

(3) Afghan officials spoke to AAN of “progress and the return of some trust.” Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said on 19 February, meeting up with US Foreign Secretary John Kerry, “I think Afghanistan and Pakistan, working in close cooperation, will do wonders for the cooperation in the field of counterterrorism. Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have never been better, and that is a very, very positive development.” The army spokesman had before noted that “the intelligence agencies of both countries worked together [on the investigation of the Peshawar attack] and we are very thankful to Afghanistan.”

(4) In Pakistan, similar projects are already being carried out through the Refugee Affected and Hosting Areas (RAHA) project, particularly focusing on water/sanitation and infrastructure. 2000 projects were carried out since 2009. As this program is spread over five years and five provinces, it is not as dense and intense as it needs to be to make a lasting difference for the affected communities

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Thematic Category: Pakistan, Region