Connected to Home: One Family’s Return to Afghanistan

by Hafizullah Hasif, IOM Afghanistan

Sardar Wali left Afghanistan with his wife and three children over twenty years ago. After years of violence in his country, he felt he had no future in Afghanistan. In neighboring Pakistan, he found peace and was able to build a simple life. The children grew up and were working to support the family.

In 2016, however, the changing political situation in Pakistan made life increasingly difficult for the family. They faced the constant risk of arrest and deportation because they lacked residency documents. With few other options, they made the difficult decision to return to Afghanistan.

“In Pakistan the living conditions were better, but in Afghanistan at least we don’t have to constantly live in fear,” said Sardar Wali.

Packing their possessions onto a truck, Sardar Wali and his family arrived at Torkham border with little notion of what their future would hold. As undocumented returnees at the border, the family received basic assistance from IOM—including food, household supplies, a mobile phone and cash to buy a SIM card.

Since the beginning of 2016, more than 260,000 undocumented Afghans have returned from Pakistan through Torkham and Spin Boldak borders. IOM is scaling up its assistance both at the borders and in high return communities to help returnees sustainably reintegrate back into Afghanistan.

 “It was unbelievable, we arrived at 11pm at night but we still received so much support,” said Sardar Wali. “The phone and SIM card were especially helpful. I was able to call my relatives in Afghanistan and arrange for them to meet us.”

Sardar Wali and other returnees can also use the phones provided at the border to contact an IOM hotline for further information and support.

“We have distributed phones and cash for SIM cards to 100 families returning from Pakistan as a pilot project,” said IOM Post-Return Monitoring Assistant Sayed Gul AHMADZAI. “Most people returning from Pakistan don’t have an active Afghan number or the money to get a phone, so this is very useful assistance. Of the 100 phones distributed, we’ve heard back from 85 families.”

Maintaining contact with returnees by phone allows the IOM Post-Return Monitoring team to better measure the effectiveness of the assistance provided at the border, and tailor future aid based on returnee needs. By providing phones to returnees in the transit centers, IOM has been able to stay in contact with an increasing number of the families post-return.