Nearly one million Afghans have returned to the country from neighboring Iran and Pakistan so far in 2021, a 36% increase compared to the same period in 2020. While for most of them return was not voluntary, many are streaming back, undocumented, burdened by debts, and without community support, having no means to fend for themselves and support their families.

Zaman*, a 65-year-old father of nine, had fled Afghanistan in 2013 with his family due to conflict and insecurity in his region. He crossed into Pakistan hoping to find a better future for his children.

Living with a disability and unable to find work, he spent most of his savings seeking critical medical care and found himself facing an uncertain future. He decided to return to Afghanistan with his family prior to the Taliban takeover in August.

Zaman’s family was on the verge of being evicted from their home when they met with a protection caseworker from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and shared their story. He explains that there are no jobs in Afghanistan either and that getting food had become a daily struggle, prompting his two teenage sons to find work in a bakery to provide for the family, diverting them from school.

IOM provides protection assistance to undocumented returnees: We give returnees crucial information and help them to access services at border points and once they are home. Our teams also provide one-off cash assistance to help returnees cover their immediate needs.

The support helps to reduce the risk that vulnerable people resort to negative coping mechanisms like child labour or marrying off their children. The assistance is available to undocumented returnees within the first three first months after their return when they are at greater risk, and lacking information or community support.

While being able to reintegrate in their communities remains an uphill battle in a country hit by a triple crisis of insecurity, natural disaster, and COVID-19, ensuring that core humanitarian needs are met on return gives people the basis they need to build safe and dignified futures.

As many of the protection risks which undocumented returnees face are linked to poverty (e.g. begging, child labour, irregular migration), IOM delivers integrated emergency, reintegration, and resilience support to displacement- and conflict-affected communities across Afghanistan.

* Name has been changed to protect identity