IOM Transit Center on Pakistan Border Expands to Cope with Influx of Afghan Returnees

Date Published: 
Sunday, May 21, 2017

The UN Migration Agency (IOM) this weekend inaugurated a major expansion of its Torkham Transit Center for undocumented Afghan returnees from Pakistan. Torkham is located in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province - close to the summit of the Khyber Pass, the main artery linking the two countries.

Over 55,000 undocumented Afghans returned from Pakistan through May 18 this year - double the number of returns during the same period in 2016, the highest return year on record. IOM is expecting nearly 600,000 undocumented Afghans to return from Pakistan and Iran by the end of 2017.

Afghanistan’s fragile humanitarian context and widening conflict mean that undocumented returnees face unique challenges -  both on arrival and when they try to reintegrate after as many as three decades abroad. Their priority needs include shelter, food, livelihoods, access to clean water and basic services including health care and education.

IOM Deputy Director General Laura Thompson, who visited Torkham on Sunday, 19 May, opened the transit center extension as part of a three-day mission to Afghanistan. During the visit she also met with Afghanistan’s CEO Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the Ministers of Refugees and Repatriation and Social Affairs, and UN and donor partners.

She also launched the 2017-18 edition of the Return of Qualified Afghans programme - a long-running Japanese-funded project launched in 2001, which has seen the 586 skilled Afghans return from Iran to take part in 12-month job placements with government agencies.

“In the past two years the lives of vulnerable Afghans have continued to become more and more precarious with spiraling levels of conflict and growing pressure on local host communities as influxes of returnees and IDPs stretch their resiliency. IOM is committed to working in support of the Government and the people of Afghanistan across the migration spectrum, from the point of entry with the provision of immediate assistance for families, to seeking out longer term reintegration solutions at the community level,” she said.

IOM has been providing post-arrival humanitarian assistance to undocumented returnees from Pakistan at the Torkham border crossing since 2012. The Torkham Transit Center is one of four IOM  centers at border crossing points between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, where returnees can receive assistance including household supplies, food, temporary accommodation, medical care and onward transport to their final destinations in Afghanistan.

The expansion of the Torkham center has doubled its accommodation capacity to 30 families or 210 individuals at any one time. Warehousing capacity has also been expanded to allow IOM to stock 1,000 family assistance packages at the center and the facility’s clinic has doubled in size.

Other improvements include the provision of more services for returnees through partners. These include the addition of Child-friendly Spaces organized by UNICEF, Mine Risk Awareness Education provided by UNMAS/DRC-DDG, and psychosocial and gender-specific support. 

IOM Chief of Mission and Special Envoy in Afghanistan, Laurence Hart believes that the humanitarian community needs to collaborate more effectively to address the returnee issue. “The scope and scale of the return is impossible for any single agency to address alone. With hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people returning to Afghanistan, sometimes after decades away, IOM is working closely with the government, the UN and NGO partners to ensure a comprehensive response. Transit centers where a number of agencies co-locate and provide specialized services are a good example of this approach.”

IOM aims to assist 100 percent of undocumented Afghan returnees from Pakistan with immediate humanitarian assistance linked to medium to longer-term, community-based reintegration solutions that address the entire spectrum of needs from the point of first arrival.

Support for IOM’s post-arrival humanitarian assistance for returnees is provided by the governments of Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland, as well as the UN Central Emergency Fund and the European Union (ECHO.) Reintegration funding is provided by the European Union’s DG DEVCO.

At the beginning of May, IOM issued an updated funding needs document outlining the need for USD 52.8 million to assist 292,000 returnees from Pakistan and Iran through March 2018.


For further information, please contact Nasir Haidarzai at IOM Afghanistan. Tel. +93 794 199 542, Email: