A Repatriated Father’s Struggle for Shelter and Food in Afghanistan

A Repatriated Father’s Struggle for Shelter and Food in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has seen waves of migration pouring into Pakistan, especially during times of conflict. For many Afghans, Pakistan has served as a refuge for decades. By 2023, it was estimated that over four million foreigners live in Pakistan, a vast majority of them Afghan nationals who sought refuge1, with numbers rising following political changes in August 2021.

Fazal, a 48-year-old Afghan, resided in Pakistan for 32 years. He established a stable life working in a bakery, while his wife and eldest daughter contributed to the family income through home-based tailoring. Collectively, they earned a little over USD 300 per month, sufficient to cover their living expenses. For Fazal and his seven children, Pakistan had become home.

In October 2023, the Pakistani interim government initiated a large-scale deportation policy that led to the repatriation of over 1 million undocumented Afghans. The government also imposed restrictions on the amount of cash and personal belongings migrants could take, capping it at PKR 50,000 (approximately $175) per person. Excess possessions were required to be left behind.

Fazal’s peaceful life was suddenly disrupted. His children, born and raised in Pakistan, had never visited Afghanistan or experienced life there. “The sudden deportation caught us off guard as we did not have the necessary documentation or the means to leave everything behind and migrate back. While we love our home country, the abrupt directive amid Afghanistan’s turmoil was bewildering,” Fazal explained.
As an undocumented refugee, Fazal was unable to deposit his savings of PKR400,000 (Approx. USD1,400) in a bank. Consequently, he entrusted this money to his employer at the bakery, but had to abandon it due to his deportation.

In December 2023, Fazal and his family undertook a three-day journey back to Afghanistan, enduring harsh conditions and spending two nights at the Torkham Campsite. “The journey was fraught with challenges, including inadequate facilities at the camp, such as a lack of latrines and potable water. We had to change our mode of transportation four times,” Fazal recounted.

Upon their return to Afghanistan, Fazal’s family, which includes his wife and seven children, aged between two years and twenty, faced significant challenges such as food insecurity, inadequate housing, and unemployment. They found temporary refuge in a single tent provided by a relative in Gorik village2. Originally from Bodialy village in the Kuz-Kunar district3, they had to resettle in Gorik since they had no house or a place to rent out in their hometown. Having left their possessions behind, they really had to spend the little money they had sparingly. They were in dire need of basic household necessities so they had to save up for that, thus, were forced to survive on minimal, lower-quality food.

Living under a tent during the winter was extremely challenging for them. They lacked access to a standard toilet and had to rely on a rudimentary one without a septic tank, disposing of waste on a slab weekly. Fortunately, Fazal’s friend provided a second-hand stove and some wood, which helped keep their tent warm. Before they received cash assistance, the family depended on food donations from friends—vegetables like pumpkin, turnip, and potato—and on rice and flour that Fazal bought with the little money he had from Pakistan. Fazal remained unemployed throughout the winter. Their small tent served as both a living room and kitchen, with the women primarily cooking on the wood-fuelled stove. The smoke was suffocating, but they had to accustom themselves to it, having no alternative.

In February 2024, Fazal’s family was selected as a project participant under ACT Rapid Response Fund’s relief project. Implemented by Community World Service Asia, Fazal received USD 280 over two months, which he used to address the family’s most pressing needs.

Fazal allocated 70% of this aid to secure immediate food supplies, while the remaining 30% was used to meet other vital needs, including clothing, heating during the winter season, and necessary medications. “Winter had brought us to a state of despair, with no employment opportunities in sight and our food supplies dwindling. The aid we received was a lifeline; it enabled me to purchase a two-month stock of groceries, such as flour, rice, pulses, oil, and sugar, among other staples,” Fazal expressed with relief.

However, Fazal emphasises that his family needs more than just short-term assistance. He advocates for long term support to rebuild livelihoods and have a permanent shelter, to help them integrate back into the community, resettle effectively in their motherland and become self-reliant. Without such support, he fears his family may resort to negative coping strategies to survive, such as child labour for their children.

Fazal’s story highlights the hardships faced by Afghan returnees, who have been uprooted from their lives and forced to rehabilitate in a land where there is economic instability, unemployment, and limited resources. His determination to provide for his family and his hope for a better future underscore the resilience of the Afghan people in the face of adversity.

  1. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/10/31/thousands-of-afghan-refugees-fleeing-pakistan-as-deportation-deadline-looms ↩︎
  2. Located in Kuz Kunar District, Nangarhar province ↩︎
  3. In Nangarhar Province ↩︎