The Asia Foundation Releases 2018 Survey of Afghan Returnees

8000 Polled on Reintegration

Kabul, May 14, 2019 — A new survey released today by The Asia Foundation explores the many challenges returnees to Afghanistan face, including limited employment opportunities and infrastructure, insecurity, lack of housing, discrimination and stigma, as well as language and cultural barriers. The first of its kind ever conducted in Afghanistan, A Survey of the Afghan Returnees is a three-year public perception survey on returnees that addresses gaps in empirical knowledge about both returnees and host communities. Read the FAQ.

With the return of asylum seekers from European countries and added pressure from neighboring countries to repatriate Afghans, the pressure on returnees and host communities is likely to increase. According to multiple sources, approximately 805,800 returnees arrived in Afghanistan from Iran and Pakistan over a one-year period from January 1 to December 31, 2018. Within the first three months of 2019, an additional 92,600 returnees arrived from the two countries.

The new Asia Foundation survey covers a range of issues from both returnees and host communities’ perspectives. For the first year of the survey (2018), almost 8,000 returnees and host community members in rural and urban areas of Balkh, Herat, Kabul, Kandahar, and Nangarhar provinces were polled. The fieldwork was conducted between October 25 and November 7, 2018.

The 2018 A Survey of the Afghan Returnees report details their optimism, pessimism, hopes, fears, and realities. Half of those interviewed (3,988) were returnees who returned to Afghanistan from abroad within the last five years. Host community members, living next door to returnees, compose the other half (4,001) of the sample.

“This survey offers rich empirical data and analysis important to decision making and policy formulation on the repatriation of millions of Afghans returning from Pakistan and Iran, individuals who confront uncertainty about their future,” said Abdullah Ahmadzai, country representative for The Asia Foundation in Afghanistan. “An unwavering obligation remains with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, international donor agencies and development organizations to transition and support returnees’ meaningful reintegration into the country.”

Join the conversation on Twitter using #AfghanReturnees and @Asia_Foundation.

Reasons for Return to Afghanistan

The top cited reasons include poor economic conditions and unemployment in their former host countries (48.6%), deportation or forcible removal (37.1%), and family reunification (24.4%). Returnees from Pakistan were more likely to cite deportation as a reason compared to those from Iran (43.1% compared to 29.7%).

Registration of Returnees

Upon return to Afghanistan, 34.3% of returnees registered with an entity – the majority registering with the government (42.1%), followed by the IOM (31.4%), and UNHCR (30.8%). A registered returnee was on average more likely to receive services and support than non-registered returnees. Returnees from Pakistan were more likely to register than returnees from Iran (43.6% versus 22.7%).

Services for Returnees

One in five returnees acknowledged they approached the government when seeking support or assistance (21.5%), while twice as many asked a neighbor for help. However, among those seeking help from the government, 21.9% also reported giving money or a gift, or performing a favor to receive the support, which about a third (32.2%) believe was not timely.

Education/Skills Acquired Abroad

Some respondents (15.8%) reported receiving some type of formal education abroad while an additional 27.8% of returnees reported learning a new skill or profession while aboard, with tailoring (29.6%), embroidery/handicrafts (21.6%), and masonry (15.2%) chief among them.

Economic Situation of Returnees

Over half of respondents (53.5%) expressed their overall household financial situation had worsened since returning to Afghanistan. Similarly, 61.9% also agreed that employment opportunities had worsened. Just over half of returnees (52.3%) had savings when returning to Afghanistan.

Integration and Conflict

Since returning to Afghanistan, 12.7% reported having experienced a conflict or dispute with their host community members. Experiences of conflict or dispute vary by strata, for example 21.8% in Kandahar compared to 6.6% in Balkh. More than half, 56.8% of returnees acknowledged experiencing discrimination because of their language or way of speaking.

Host Community Perceptions of Returnees

The overwhelming majority of host community members (96.4%) feel comfortable while interacting with returnees. A similar portion (95.5%) of host community members favored a returnee moving next door to them, and more than half (55%) agreed returnees have a positive effect on their neighborhood safety. However, 36.0% of host community members believed that returnees have a negative effect on the availability of jobs in their area.

On major problems facing returnees, host community members cited unemployment (78.0%), access to land (75.0%), and lack of food (51.0%). More than half, 63.8% of host community members believe returnees need additional help, with 24.3% acknowledging they have been approached by returnees for help or support, including food (22.6%). Respondents believe the government should provide returnees with food (71.4%), money (65.5%), job training (64.2%), housing (64.5%), and free land (60.7%).

For in-depth analysis, please refer to the full report, FAQ, and raw data.

This survey is made possible by the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The Asia Foundation supports cross-country and regional dialogues throughout Asia to enable government and non-governmental leaders to share lessons and best practices relate to governance and common developmental issues. The Asia Foundation works to strengthen relations among Asian nations in the efforts to foster peace, stability, prosperity, and effective governance.

Read more about the Foundation’s work.

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Amy Ovalle, Vice President, Global Communications

Eelynn Sim, Director, Media & Strategy


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