Islamic Relief Canada Statement: Majority of Afghan returnees from Pakistan don’t have shelter or food, new survey finds

A new assessment by Islamic Relief has found dire conditions for Afghan refugees who have recently returned from Pakistan, with 90% of new arrivals left homeless ahead of a freezing Afghan winter.

As people continue to arrive back in Afghanistan, almost one-third of new arrivals (32%) are severely lacking food and almost two in three (62%) report health problems such as diarrhea and other gastrointestinal ailments.

Islamic Relief interviewed 315 new arrivals crossing the border into Afghanistan from Pakistan after the government of Pakistan told those without documents to leave. Since 15 September, almost 400,000 Afghans have so far crossed back into Afghanistan following the order which could affect around 1.7 million people. Many of these Afghans had built their lives in Pakistan and now face an uncertain future.

Islamic Relief has launched a response plan to help the returnees over the next six months, and is providing them with cash assistance, medical support, education materials, as well as water and sanitation infrastructure. Islamic Relief is supporting returnees on both the Pakistan and Afghanistan side of the border with plans to also offer support when they arrive at their destinations in Afghanistan.

The assessment – conducted at the Torkham border crossing – also found that 92% of people interviewed lacked easy access to safe water and 71% reported problems accessing sanitation facilities, 98% reported protection concerns like child safety and protection for the elderly, while 90% said they were now worried about being able to access education for their children – especially girls.

Many of the returnees were born in Pakistan and have never even been to Afghanistan, with 40% of them children and 16% under 4 years old.

People are returning to Afghanistan while it’s in the midst of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. The hundreds of thousands of new returnees are adding to more than 29 million Afghans who are in need of humanitarian aid. Many of them face acute food insecurity and unemployment is sky high.

Returnees told Islamic Relief the journey from Pakistan was extremely challenging, with their meagre possessions lost on the way. The approaching winter in Afghanistan – where temperatures can drop to 30 degrees below freezing – makes the situation even more urgent, as new arrivals are lacking shelter, warm clothes and food.

Most Afghan refugees are hosted in neighbouring countries such as Pakistan and Iran, but the UN-led regional refugee response plan is only 15% funded this year.

Afghanistan is suffering a major humanitarian crisis against a continuing trend of shrinking donor funding. As of 28 November 2023, only 39.5% of the total needs outlined in the UN-led Afghanistan humanitarian response plan (HRP) have been funded, threatening the ability of humanitarian agencies to respond to the growing crisis and new emergencies such as the recent earthquakes in Herat.