Afghans in border town Islam Qala. Credit: Shoaib Tanha, DW
Afghans in border town Islam Qala. Credit: Shoaib Tanha, DW

They are poor and do not have rights. More than 500,000 Afghan refugees have been deported from Iran and Pakistan. DW correspondent Shoaib Tanha met the returnees and assistants in the Afghan border town Islam of Qala.

Men, women and children run with a few belongings to the border patrol to be allowed to register. Thousands of Afghan refugees must leave the neighboring countries of Pakistan and Iran. At the border to Iran 2,000 returnees are registered every day. Many of them have lived in Iran for decades. The majority of the returning refugees have been deported.

Salman was deported in a group with other Afghans. In order to earn money for his family, he traveled to Iran two weeks ago and worked as a day laborer in a factory. "The police came one day. They beat me out of there and expelled me in my work clothes. There was nothing to eat or drink in detention," Salman told Deutsche Welle. Many Afghans in Iran have been discriminated against. "They call us 'dirty Afghans.' Even if it is legal for people to be in Iran, the security forces rip up identity papers and say 'you filthy Afghan, why did you come here?'"

Returnees show their scars from torture by Iranian security forces

Returning from hostile Iran

Afghans are not allowed to reside in 15 of the 31 provinces in Iran. Afghans are not allowed to enter many cities and places. They are denied an education. Many Afghans work as day laborers, but often times they are not paid.

Matin Qaderi, the manager of the office for refugees at the Islam Qala border patrol in Herat, sees this quite often. "If they sue for proper wages in court, they are directly deported," said Qaderi. Success stories are virtually unheard of.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is under the roof of the United Nations (UN) and has 162 member states (including Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan), states that more than 560,000 Afghans will return from neighboring Iran and Pakistan by the end of 2017.

In comparison, the German government says 245 Afghans were deported from Germany by air in the first half of 2017. About 320 Afghans were deported from Germany in 2016. The next planned deportation from Germany to Kabul in planned for Wednesday, this time with 50 Afghans. According to the IOM, 3,938 Afghans who were in Europe have voluntarily returned since the beginning of 2017.  

Need for humanitarian aid is increasing

Many of the returnees come back with nothing. Omar Majeedi, who supports undocumented Afghans in Iran and Pakistan on behalf of the IOM, says "the returnees from Pakistan and Iran face the same problems that they fled from: growing insecurity in the country and lost jobs."

A committee of the Afghan government (DiREC, Displacement and Return Executive Committee) has worked with representatives of international organizations and donors to readmit repatriates since 2016. The IOM, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and War Child are some of the organizations that returnees need.

Alas, there is not enough help. According to a report by the UN, about 3.3 million people in Afghanistan will require humanitarian aid in 2018.

In a t-shirt in freezing temperatures

Ahmad in front of the UNHCR office in Islam Qala

Ahmad (name changed), who stands in the freezing cold in front of the UNHCR office in the Afghan city Islam Qala near the border with Iran, is one of those people who needs aid. He was not allowed to pick up his clothes, shoes or money when he was put in detention, he told DW. "I was in deportation detention for 12 days where I was forced to work to pay for the cost of my departure," he said. "I finally sold my phone and they let me out. Now I'm at the border and I do not have any money to get to my home province."

The returnees from Iran and Pakistan have increased the number of internally displaced people. According to the UN, over 360,000 Afghans became internally displaced between January and October 2017 as a result of hostilities. There are already 1 million internally displaced people living in makeshift shelters in the Nangarhar province. In the cold winter months many have to fight to survive.

Authors:  Shoaib Tanha, Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi

First published: December 12, 2017

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