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Since mid-September, about 484,000 Afghans have been forced to return to their country of origin, of whom 29,000 have been deported (IOM).
These events occurred after the official announcement of the deportation of all undocumented Afghan refugees living in Pakistan. Action Against Hunger has been closely monitoring the situation and assessing humanitarian needs in Baluchistan, home to one of the biggest Afghan communities in the country.
A great number of Afghan population were established in Pakistan for decades due to numerous wars, violence and economic hardships in their homeland. According to the UNHCR, around 1.32 million Afghan refugees possess the required paperwork, whereas approximately 1.375 million Afghan immigrants are currently residing in the country without legal status.
Action Against Hunger implements health programs in Balochistan, one of the biggest provinces of Pakistan and home to numerous Afghan refugees living alongside local communities. Afghan refugees began to settle here in the late 1970s after the Soviet intervention. Subsequently, other generations joined the ranks of refugees in the following decades due to ongoing conflicts, insecurity and the negative effects of climate change, seeking safety and a chance at a better life. Over the past four months, the province has had the highest number of deportations among the Afghan population.
According to an Afghan resident met by our teams in Saranan Refugee Camp in the district of Pishin, Pakistan, not only illegal immigrants are concerned about the current situation but also Individuals holding valid documents, such as POR¹ and ACC² cards. “It has had a detrimental impact on the mental well-being of our entire Afghan community. Refugees are being apprehended and confined to camps, causing widespread mental stress, anxiety, and anguish”.
The fear of going out, loss of livelihood and family separation are among the most devastating consequences of this measure. According to the discussions with Afghan refugees, many have to borrow money from their fellow refugees and members of the host community to meet their basic needs. Most respondents mentioned that Afghans have struggled to continue their livelihoods and income-generation activities since the crackdown. An Afghan resident of Kazh Meerzai settlement in Balochistan, Pakistan, stressed that the financial situation was already difficult. “I was in debt before this crackdown; after this whole situation, my debt is increasing, and I don’t know how I will repay the debt. This will worsen our financial condition.”.
The uncertainty of not knowing the fate or whereabouts of a loved one compounds the distress, creating a pervasive atmosphere of fear and anxiety. Men, often considered the primary targets for deportation, are torn away from their wives and children. The absence of fathers, husbands, and brothers not only deprives families of a vital support system but also leads to emotional and psychological trauma for both adults and children. Some female residents from Kan Mehtarzai, Pakistan, reported that many male members of the community were deported while their families were left completely alone without any acknowledgement. “They don’t have any contact with their household heads; they don’t even know if they are alive or dead.”
The impact on children is particularly severe. Many were born in Pakistan and have never known any other home. “Our children are afraid and scared. They do not want to leave this place.” reported a mother living in Killa Saifullah.
”They don’t eat and sleep well, which will lead to mental and physical illnesses”.
With the looming winter season, restricted livelihoods and employment opportunities, the health and nutrition conditions of the refugees may also worsen. Women with young children are potentially vulnerable. A conversation with the women’s group revealed that due to fear of being arrested, women prefer to consult local midwives: “We don’t go to main city hospitals to avail healthcare services, especially the delivery cases. They are managed by the local midwives, who, sometimes, mishandle the case”. This situation leaves pregnant women at an increased risk of morbidity and mortality.
The increased food insecurity, economic uncertainty, and access issues for health care are likely to lead to an increase in the prevalence of acute malnutrition. In addition, the prevailing circumstances have severely affected the mental well-being of Afghan refugees. The provision of psychosocial support is imperative, given the considerable trauma, emotional distress, and mental health difficulties that refugees have faced due to the disruptions they are enduring. Policy changes, advocacy, and support systems are crucial to mitigating the devastating impact of forced deportation on refugees who have sought nothing but safety and stability.
All focused group and individual discussions were conducted by ACF teams in the province of Balochistan, Pakistan.
* Proof of Registration Card is an identity document for Afghan refugees that entitles them to remain in Pakistan legally (UNHCR).
** Afghan Citizen Cards (ACC) are issued by the Pakistan government to legalise and regularise undocumented Afghan nationals for a limited period of time.
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