The hard journey back to Afghanistan

Thousands of Afghans have made the gruelling decision to leave home. Now they face going back – whether they want to or not – often under difficult circumstances. While numerous media outlets and humanitarian organisations are documenting the experiences of the many Afghans returning from Pakistan and Iran, little is known about the much smaller number of Afghans returning from Europe. Little is known, too, about the conditions these Afghans experience in Europe and the reintegration challenges they face once they return.

To better understand the motivations behind Afghans’ decisions to migrate to Europe and then return – and to identify key challenges to their reintegration – REACH and Mixed Migration Platform (MMP) assessed the experiences of individuals who travelled to Europe and returned to Afghanistan between 2014 and 2017. The resulting reportMigration from Afghanistan to Europe: Drivers, Return and Reintegration, highlights information researchers collected through interviews with 28 voluntary, assisted and forced Afghan returnees. The UK Department for International Development (DiFD) funded the assessment.

The report presented these definitions of the different returns:

  • Assisted voluntary returns occur when individuals choose on their own to go back to their homeland. A national government and the International Organisation for Migration pay for and organise these returns;
  • Forced returns usually involve deporatations or other movements against their will;
  • Voluntary returns, theoretically, require an individual’s free choice to go back that is uninfluenced by physical, psychosocial or material coercion, and based on accurate and unbiased information.

Our assessment shows that most returnees decided to leave Afghanistan because of armed conflict, more general instability such as crime, and few job opportunities.

Respondents who voluntarily decided to return to Afghanistan reported they were mainly influenced by: economic issues, family pressure, an inability to reach their desired destination due to border closures, and an inability to gain asylum in Europe. In Afghanistan, the biggest reintegration challenges centred on the ability to develop and maintain livelihoods.

“Not being able to receive refugee status and not being able to work – through which I could have supported my family financially – besides doing nothing and spending my time in the [refugee] camp was boring. An unforeseen future, where it is unclear whether after spending more years in Europe I would have received refugee status [was not worth it]”, a 28-year-old assisted returnee told researchers.

The main source of support for most returnees was family – a largely unsustainable type of support that only worsened their families’ economic fragility. Most returnees had clear ideas of what type of support they needed to launch small businesses – investments and micro-finance loans that would help them build sustainable livelihoods.

Almost all of the returnees whom REACH researchers spoke with for this assessment still viewed migration positively despite the negative experiences they may have had on their journey to Europe, the difficult conditions they faced there, and the threat of forced return. In fact, many Afghans considered theirs a journey interrupted. Citing poor employment prospects, a weak education system and general instability in Afghanistan, most respondents said they wanted to go back to Europe and planned to do so after saving money and resources for a second migration attempt.

Read the full findings in the REACH-MMP report, Migration from Afghanistan to Europe: Drivers, Return and Reintegration.