What happens when refugees are forced to go home?

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In the latest turn in the refugee crisis prior to today’s EU-Turkey summit in Brussels, Macedonian border officials have started profiling arrivals (in addition to beating them) and denying entry to those they deem not to come from war –afflicted cities and provinces. They are operating, allegedly, without authority, and outside international law.

Limiting intake seems logical on the face of it. But have you ever wondered what happens when migrants are forced to return  to the war and destruction they were fleeing?

We met with officials, local groups and spoke with refugee reintegration organizations in Afghanistan, where the number of ‘forced returns’ grew rapidly in the past year. We found that Afghan forced returnees face food insecurity and exposure to ongoing violence, and are at increased risk of joining insurgent groups.  Forcing migrants back into wars is simply not a solution, and can fuel further insecurity and displacement.

The number of forced returns to Afghanistan is increasing as countries in Europe adopt stricter measures to limit intake, and as neighbors Pakistan and Iran push war-weary refugees back home. But Afghanistan is not ready for such flows.

We learned that in some cases returnees are going back not only to Taliban controlled areas, but also those experiencing active fighting /contested areas, because they have not had the time to explore other options. With preparation for return, returnees haven’t had time to tap into a support network, access long-term housing options and so on.

Young male returnees are particularly at risk for recruitment into violent extremist groups and criminal networks. Their high visibility in rural areas, social isolation, and lack of legitimate income opportunities make them easy targets for recruitment. NGOs working with returnees believe that competing violent extremist groups, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, may be more attractive for returnees because of the higher financial incentives they provide.

A lack of access to land, essential services, and income-earning opportunities and exposure to violent conflict means that returnees often become displaced internally, joining the close to one million current internally displaced persons (IDPs). Returnees are resettling in large numbers in urban areas where they hope to escape the violence and poverty, putting additional strain on services and reportedly creating tensions with longer-term residents. Women returnees have been particularly affected by restrictions on mobility that, in turn, affect their access to basic services, including education and health.

Read the full United States Institute of Peace Peace Brief and our recommendations here: The Forced Return of Afghan Refugees and Implications for Stability

 

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