As Afghanistan Seeks to Reintegrate Unprecedented Number of Returnees, New MPI Report Examines Limitations of Current Return and Reintegration Policies
WASHINGTON — With as many as 1 million people forcibly returned to Afghanistan in 2016 alone and more than 5.2 million refugees assisted in their return to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2002, the nature of return policies and reintegration assistance from European governments and others merit significant attention.
A key feature of Afghan migration today—beyond the displacement that an estimated 1 in 4 Afghans have experienced and outward migration—is return, at times voluntarily but often forced. These returns, which include both recent emigrants and those who have been abroad for decades, have significant implications for the individuals returned, Afghan society and the migration-management and development objectives of the countries initiating returns, as a new report from the Migration Policy Institute’s Transatlantic Council on Migration explores.
The report, From Forced Migration to Forced Returns in Afghanistan: Policy and Program Implications, draws on field research on Afghan returnees that Samuel Hall researcher Nassim Majidi has carried out since 2008. Beyond examining current return trends to Afghanistan and the characteristics of those returning, chiefly from Europe, it considers the return and reintegration policies employed and the obstacles that limit their effective implementation.
As more and more Afghans and others sought asylum in Europe in 2015 and 2016, European policymakers looked for ways to forestall new arrivals. They have favored two approaches: (1) attempting to address the root causes of migration through development and humanitarian assistance, and (2) facilitating repatriation through return and reintegration programs for those who are judged not to have legitimate protection needs. In parallel, Iran and Pakistan, which host the largest number of Afghan refugees and migrants, have increased pressure on Afghans to return.
“Returns have … come to dominate Afghan migration patterns at one of the most insecure and unstable times in its recent history,” Majidi writes. “This has created tensions for individuals, households and entire communities across Afghanistan, with implications that are not only economic, but social and psychosocial as well.”
Many returnees choose to leave again—a trend that suggests such policies are not achieving their goals. The report finds that reintegration assistance programs face numerous limitations, including the inability to see beyond economic integration to address returnees’ more complex health care, psychological support, housing and education needs. The programs also are hampered by limited coordination within the Afghan government and with international partners, lack of consultation and information-sharing with returnees and a post-return focus that ignores the fact that engagement pre-return assures better outcomes.
“If not managed in a sustainable and people-centered way, returns can lead to greater disorder and insecurity at both individual and collective levels,” Majidi concludes.
She also writes that much more must be done to evaluate returnees’ needs and the effectiveness of reintegration programs—a finding reiterated in a United Nations report released last week by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office. Noting the struggles to reintegrate huge numbers of people, the UN report highlights the importance of returnees being included in local governance and expanding the scale of technical and vocational training offered to them and internally displaced persons.
This report is the second in a Transatlantic Council series, “Building Partnerships to Respond to the Next Decade’s Migration Challenges.” The series captures the Council’s discussions over innovative ways to foster collaborative bilateral and regional cooperation at a time when migration-management and refugee-reception systems have been heavily taxed by unplanned mixed flows of migrants and asylum seekers.
Next week, the Council will publish the third report in the series. It examines the renewed dynamism with which the European Union is seeking partnerships with countries in Africa to ensure cooperation on migration goals—and the pitfalls that could arise if migration is not embedded in a broader context and taking into full account partner country needs, interests and capacity.
The Afghanistan report can be accessed here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/forced-migration-forced-returns-afghanistan.
The reports in the series are collected here: www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/transatlantic-council-migration/building-partnerships-respond-next-decade-migration.
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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at local, national and international levels. MPI’s Transatlantic Council on Migration is a unique deliberative body that examines vital policy issues and informs migration policymaking processes across the Atlantic community.