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A cycle of return, displacement & migration

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A cycle of return, displacement & migration
 When Mohammad Afshar poured a can of fuel over himself and fumbled with the box of matches he was determined to end his life. This was on 15 November 2017. The father of 12 children and husband to two wives had exhausted all means to provide for his family and hardship seemed just too much to bear. He had sold one of his sons for Afs5,000 Afghani (US$80) to buy food, another son had died when the walls of the house collapsed under heavy snow and two daughters had frozen to death because he couldn’t afford enough blankets to keep them warm in winter.
A few weeks before the incident, he planned to sell their youngest daughter but was stopped only by his wife: “I would rather all of us die, than lose another one of my children”, she said. That was the moment he had decided to end his life in protest in front of the District Governor who visited the village. Only the quick reaction of bystanders who took the matches from his fingers foiled his plan.
Within days of their arrival in Afghanistan, they became internally displaced before the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, Mohammad Afshar worked as a farmer on his land in his village in Takhar Province. In 1998, he and his family moved to Quetta in Pakistan to escape Taliban rule. “I found a job in a brick factory as a daily worker,” he remembers. “My income was decent and we were happy.”
But in 2016, after 18 years in Pakistan where he never tried to obtain or was asked for any kind of documentation, the harassment and extortion by Pakistani police reached their peak. He decided to return to Afghanistan.
When he arrived back in his old village in Takhar, the family’s house had been destroyed and the fields had been taken over by armed men. Having spent many years in exile he did not have the necessary support in the community to reclaim his property.
He and his family left the village and moved to another district into an abandoned building without doors or windows. Within days of their arrival in their home country, Mohammad Afshar and his family had joined the ranks of internally displaced people (IDPs).
One quarter of all returnees know they cannot return to their home villages Mohammad Afshar is not an isolated case: more than 100,000 Afghan IDPs and returnees currently live in improvised shelters, tents or under open sky, with more than 51,000 in Nangarhar province alone. This according to the latest results of IOM Afghanistan’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) Baseline Mobility Assessments, conducted in December 2017 in 15 provinces of highest return and displacement.
Last year, one quarter of all returnees from Pakistan arrived in Afghanistan with no intention of returning to their province of origin. This is up from just over one fifth in the previous year. Of significant note, 67 per cent of Afghan returnees in 2017 with roots in Kunar Province had no intention to return to Kunar, where conflict has intensified in the past months and members of the Islamic State of Khorasan (ISK) are trying to gain influence. Among these, 86 per cent decided to settle in Nangarhar Province instead, notably in and around Jalalabad City.
“Insecurity is not the only reason for post-return displacement,” explains Michael Speir, IOM Afghanistan’s DTM Coordinator. “As in the case of Mohammad Afshar, many Afghan families who have lived abroad for decades only discover upon their return that their houses have been destroyed and their land taken away. Stripped of their homes and any opportunities to secure their living, these people have no other option but to seek alternative places to live.”
Lack of opportunities and services in rural areas furthers urbanization
Reasons why Afghans can’t return to their places of origin, especially in rural areas, include a lack of job opportunities and social services, such as schools, health facilities or markets.
More than 700,000 returnees and IDPs in the 15 assessed provinces reported to have no access to education, almost two million don’t have access to a doctor, and more than 1.5 million don’t have access to a market to buy and sell goods, including food items, according to IOM’s latest DTM results.
Mohammad Afshar’s case also explains the trend of urbanization in Afghanistan. “Before he left Afghanistan two decades ago, Mohammad Afshar was a farmer,” notes Speir. “When he moved to Quetta in Pakistan, the urban labour market required a different skill set. Then, upon return to his rural village in Takhar, there was no need for his urban ‘daily labor’ skills acquired in Pakistan. Ultimately, with no access to his former land and faded farming skills, he really struggled to ensure the survival of his family in rural Takhar.

Sadly, the extreme coping mechanism of selling his children was his last resort.” Lack of shelter, job opportunities and no school for returnees to Afghanistan Another case is that of Zabihullah and his family who also lived in Pakistan for many years. “One day, a representative from the Government of Afghanistan came to our camp and told us that if we return, we will be given shelter and jobs. Because the harassment in Pakistan was getting worse, I decided to bring my wife and five children back to our home district in Baghlan,” he explains. “But there were no shelters and no job opportunities.” His children were not even able to go to school, because he could not provide the required certification. 
When the tent that the family was forced to live in was washed away in a flash flood, Zabihullah was lucky to save all his family members, but lost most of his belongings. Zabihullah has decided to return to Pakistan, despite renewed uncertainty over the fate of Afghan citizens living in Pakistan.
Returnees at risk of cyclical, unsafe migration movements
“This is exactly what we don’t want to happen – cyclical, unsafe migration movements, because people get pushed from province to province, or from country to country,” says IOM Afghanistan’s Chief of Mission, Laurence Hart.
“Migration movements in Afghanistan have become coping mechanisms. 
The more often Afghans are forced to migrate, the more vulnerable they become, and the less likely it gets that they will be able to reintegrate,” the head of IOM Afghanistan explains.
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