In line with UNHCR’s protection monitoring objectives and noting with concern the increasing impact of COVID-19 pandemic on cross-border movements in Afghanistan, UNHCR made the decision to expand its protection and return monitoring activities to the official entry points with Iran (Islam Qala and Zaranj/Milak crossing points) and Pakistan (Spin Boldak/Chaman and Torkham) by establishing border monitoring activities mostly focusing on inflows.
Through regular and consistent presence at these zero points, UNHCR aimed to ensure efficient, timely and systematic collection and analysis of protection related information from Afghan returnees and deportees, irrespective of their status. Border monitoring also helps to assess access to the territory and “the right to asylum” for people fleeing persecution who may be in need of international protection. It also aims at assessing the right to return for Afghan refugees and other nationals amidst possible limitations imposed by the Pandemic.
In March, UNHCR assisted the return of 265 Afghan refugees from Iran (188), Pakistan (75) and other countries (2). Cumulatively since the beginning of 2023, UNHCR assisted the return of 573 Afghan refugees from Iran (433), Pakistan (143) and other countries (6) under its facilitated voluntary repatriation programme. The figure is 106% higher compared to 2023 figures at the same period when 278 refugees returned.
Refugee returnees receive, upon arrival, a multi-purpose cash grant (an average of USD 250 per person) and other services such as basic health care, malnutrition screening and vaccination, mine risk awareness, information on school enrolment and overnight accommodation. In the context of COVID-19, awareness raising about the pandemic and preventive measures, as well as the distribution of PPE are systematically conducted at Encashment Centers located in Herat, Kandahar, Kabul, and Nangarhar provinces. UNHCR’s cash grants to refugees upon return to Afghanistan intend to address their immediate needs to prevent, reduce, and respond to protection risks and vulnerabilities.
In addition to refugee returnees and in the context of coordinated activities at entry points, a total number of 103,823 undocumented returnees/deportees have been recorded during March, according to MoRR/IOM. This include 102,004 from Iran (56,942 deportees and 45,062 spontaneous returnees) and 1,819 from Pakistan (1,716 spontaneous returnees and 103 deportees). Cumulatively since 01 January, the total number of undocumented returnees/deportees stands at 249,604 individuals, including 246,324 from Iran (136,608 deportees and 109,716 spontaneous returnees) and 3,280 from Pakistan (2,983 spontaneous returnees and 297 deportees).
During March, individual and household level interviews conducted by UNHCR through partners as part of border monitoring activities randomly reached a total of 10,074 returnees and deportees (representing 10% of the total returnees/deportees during March) including 7,012 males and 3,062 females. Cumulatively during January and March 2023, a total of 24,994 interviews (representing 10% of total returnees/deportees) were conducted with returnees/deportees of various status (17,315 males and 7,679 females) upon return from Iran at Zaranj/Milak (8,895) and Islam Qala (4,642), and from Pakistan at Spin Boldak/Chaman (6,959) and Torkham (4,498). These include 16,778 single individuals and 8,216 heads of households who returned with their families. In general, the majority of returnees/deportees from Iran are single males, while it is not the case among returnees/deportees from Pakistan.