Afghan Winter Crisis: Urgent Plea for 500,000 Return

In a joint effort, nine international non-governmental organizations operating in Afghanistan are issuing a pressing call to the international community and humanitarian donors. The plea is for increased support for the nearly half a million displaced Afghan families who have returned to their homeland in the face of an impending winter crisis. The call comes as Pakistan implemented a policy requiring undocumented foreign nationals to leave, resulting in a massive influx of Afghans returning home.

The organizations, including CARE International, the Danish Refugee Council, INTERSOS, the International Rescue Committee, Islamic Relief Worldwide, Mercy Corps, the Norwegian Refugee Council, Save the Children International, and World Vision International, warn that returning Afghan families are grappling with dire circumstances and a lack of resources to endure the harsh winter and rebuild their lives.

Among the returnees, 80 percent are women and children, exposing them to heightened protection risks during their journey back to Afghanistan. Many families used all available resources, including assistance at the border, to return and are now struggling to secure shelter and sustenance. Mariam*, a mother of five, encapsulates the dire situation: “Without support for us women, we will be forced to beg on the streets or send our children to find whatever work they can.”

Afghanistan, already burdened by decades of conflict, recent earthquakes, and a crippling economic crisis, can offer little to those returning. With 29 million people in need of humanitarian support, the returning families find themselves in a precarious position with limited prospects for survival.

The lack of employment opportunities further exacerbates the challenges for returnees, particularly for women-headed households. Returning families need long-term solutions that include access to adequate lands without the fear of eviction, job opportunities, and education to rebuild their lives.

The situation has been escalating since Pakistan’s announcement on September 26, 2023, requiring the repatriation of undocumented foreign nationals. As of December 9, 2023, 456,590 individuals have returned from Pakistan to Afghanistan, with this number expected to rise in the coming months.

UNHCR has issued a non-return advisory to Afghanistan, emphasizing a bar on forced returns of Afghan nationals, including rejected asylum seekers. Despite the situation’s urgency, the $3.2 billion appeal to help over 29 million people across Afghanistan is only 41.9 percent funded, leaving aid operations facing a critical funding gap.

In light of the humanitarian crisis, the international community is urged to increase its support, ensuring that returning Afghans receive the assistance they desperately need to survive the winter and rebuild their lives. The plea also calls on host countries to continue offering refuge for Afghans until a safe and sustainable return is viable.

Image credit, Norwegian Refugee Council