When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Geopolitics

Decades Later, Afghan Refugees Face Uncertain Homecoming

Thousands of Afghans are making their way home after years and years living as refugees in neighboring Pakistan. For many of the migrants, their native country is now a foreign place.

Afghan refugees going home to Pakistan
Afghan refugees going home to Pakistan
Shadi Khan Saif

KABUL — Migration has left deep marks on the lives of Afghans, adding to a sense of national despair that is often and poignantly reflected in the country's folk songs.

For decades, starting with the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, people have been forced to flee. Now, though, some of those who left are having to migrate yet again, this time back into Afghanistan.

So far this year, a record 30,000 Afghan refugees in neighboring Pakistan have packed up and returned to their native land for good. Another 3 million may follow in the coming months due to mounting persecution and uncertainty surrounding the legal status of their stay.

Earlier this year, Pakistan offered Afghan refugees a last-minute grace period of six months, but warned that after this, there will be no more residency extensions. Authorities there are also offering Afghans a financial incentive to leave, according to Nader Farhad, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

"In the last month alone we saw a large number of refugees return because of the increased stipend and growing persecution in Pakistan," he says. "Each returning refugee is now paid $400, so a family of let's say five members can get up to $2,000."

In the past, the refugees were only paid around $200 — hardly enough to even cover the transportation costs.

While thousands have now decided to return to Afghanistan, most have no idea what they will do next. Tila Mohammad, a father of four, spent 25 years as a refugee in Pakistan. He returned literally empty handed.

"Look at my hands," he says. "With these bare hands, we are working in this open field to erect a mud house for the children to live in. Both governments Afghanistan and Pakistan promised us help. But we haven't gotten anything except the money given to us on arrival by the UNHCR."

Mohammad's story is shared by almost everyone repatriated back to Afghanistan from Pakistan. Deprived of many basic facilities in Pakistan, they lived a life of compromise and sacrifice. Malik Sedique, an elderly Afghan who migrated to Pakistan during the 1980s, says it doesn't look much different now.

"We were called refugees throughout our stay in Pakistan. But now that we're back, people are saying the "refugees' have returned," she says. "In all those years, many women become widows. Children became orphans. They should be welcomed back home warmly, but that's the case."

Almost every returning family claims to have paid thousands of rupees to the Pakistani border forces for permission to carry wood, animals, trunks, utensils and other goods across the border.

Many parts of modern-day Pakistan, including the whole of northwestern Khyber Pakthunwa, and many districts of southwestern Baluchistan were part of the greater Afghanistan before British rule over India.

[rebelmouse-image 27090410 alt="""" original_size="740x388" expand=1]

Photo: Shadi Khan Saif

An overwhelming majority of the Afghan refugees are ethnic Pashtuns, meaning they share an ethnic lineage with their Pakistani hosts.

Analyst Tahir Zaland believes the refugees bore the brunt of cold ties between the two countries that worsened after cross-border skirmishes last month. "Ultimately it is a good thing that these refugees return to their home country. But the government and aid agencies should create a better environment for them to integrate and overcome the early problems," he explains.

The Afghan government has promised to provide land to each repatriated family. In Kabul, land has already been designated for the refugees in four areas, but the allocation process is slow and complicated.

Still, some, like Dawlat Khan, a recently repatriated Afghan, are happy to be home. "Thank God it is our own country," he says. "One can die with honor in one's own land. In a foreign land even a prince isn't really a prince."

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

LGBTQ Plus

Mayan And Out! Living Proudly As An Indigenous Gay Man

Being gay and indigenous can mean facing double discrimination, including from within the communities they belong to. But LGBTQ+ indigenous people in Guatemala are liberating their sexuality and reclaiming their cultural heritage.

Photo of the March of Dignity in Guatemala

The March of Dignity in Guatemala

Teresa Son and Emma Gómez

CANTEL — Enrique Salanic and Arcadio Salanic are two K'iché Mayan gay men from this western Guatemalan city

Fire is a powerful symbol for them. Associated with the sons and daughters of Tohil, the god who bestows fire in Mayan culture, it becomes the mirror and the passage that allows them to see and express their sexuality. It is a portal that connects people with their grandmothers and grandfathers, the cosmos and the energies that the earth transmits.

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest