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Afghanistan Struggles to Deal with Wave of Returning Refugees

The U.S.backed government of Afghanistan and aid agencies are reportedly ill-prepared to receive the hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees who have returned home from neighboring Pakistan and Iran as winter closes in and deteriorating security conditions uproot more Afghans across the country.

“Perched on top of lumbering trucks overflowing with all their possessions, Afghan families are streaming back to their home country at unprecedented rates, leaving international organisations scrambling to provide aid as winter approaches,” reports Reuters.

Mark Bowden, the humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations in Afghanistan, indicated that “while the winter is usually mild in the area of Nangarhar [in eastern Afghanistan], where many returning refugees have at least temporarily settled, many others have headed further west to Kabul, where freezing temperatures may take a toll on anyone unable to find accommodation,” adds Reuters.

Citing the Afghan government, TOLO News reported last month that Afghanistan was receiving nearly 6,000 returnees each day, with most of them coming in from Pakistan.

According to the UN, more than half-a-million refugees have returned home to Afghanistan from Iran and Pakistan this year alone. The refugees are reportedly depleting the capacity of their home government and aid agencies as ongoing violence displaces more Afghans within their own country.

“A cluster of white tents only a few hundred meters from the [Afghanistan-Pakistan] border marks the first facility operated by the UN, the Afghan government, and other aid agencies to provide aid for returnees before they look for a home in a country many have not seen in years,” reports Reuters.

Some Afghans have accused Pakistan of coercing them to return home, an accusation that Islamabad denies. Meanwhile, in Iran, some refugees are being forced to go fight and die on behalf of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

“At Torkham, the busiest border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan, nearly 170,000 Afghans have returned this year, according to the U.N., many of them citing harassment by Pakistani authorities as relations between the two countries have deteriorated,” notes Reuters.

The UN’s Bowden indicated that “in September, the UN issued an appeal for millions of dollars of emergency funding to help returning refugees and other internally displaced people in Afghanistan, but so far the fundraising has yet to reach its goal,” adds the news agency.

“Out of the $150 million that we requested, we’ve only got $48 million so far, and our costs are certainly going to be running quite high over the winter period,” he told Reuters.

Afghan and Pakistani border authorities have fired at each other this year amid growing tensions between the two countries. Historically, the relationship between neighbors Afghanistan and Pakistan has been tense.

The Afghan government appears to be growing closer to Pakistan’s regional enemy India, with the blessing of the United States, as relations between Islamabad and New Delhi decline even further. U.S, Afghan, and Indian officials accuse Pakistan of harboring terrorists.

In late June, Pakistan argued that Afghan refugee camps were serving as “safe havens for terrorists” due to the unfettered movement of people from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Afghanistan and Pakistan constantly accuse one another of supporting terrorism.

As of early September, more than 260,000 Afghans, both legals and illegals, had been forced to return to their native country from Pakistan, according to the Washington Post (WaPo).

Reuters points out, “Islamabad has stepped up pressure to send people back and numbers have risen sharply in recent months as Afghan-Indian relations strengthened and those between India and Pakistan soured,” continuing, “But Pakistani officials deny there has been systematic harassment of Afghans living in Pakistan and say their country has demonstrated great generosity to the refugee population, despite severe economic problems of its own.”

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