Al Jazeera Blogs


Asia

Afghans in Pakistan face hard decision

Families forced to choose between an uncertain future at home and their current troubled lives in exile
Last modified: 24 Aug 2013 08:04

Since the start of the US invasion in 2002, the Pakistani government has begun encouraging Afghans to return home.

A Tripartite Agreement between the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the UN's refugee agency expired in December 2012, leaving Afghan’s without legal status in the country.

After months in limbo, the agreement was eventually extended until December 2015, allowing Afghan refugees to stay until then.

For 47-year-old shopkeeper Ghafoor Khan, the uncertainty led him to make what he describes as the "hardest decision of his life".

He's moving his family from Peshawar, where he's lived for the past 30 years, back to his ancestral village just outside the city of Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan.

"We love Pakistan, but life here has become hard for Afghans," he said.

"We worry the government will tell us to get out. So we are choosing to leave now and give our children a proper home."

Repatriation is voluntary, however in order to receive the incentives that come with it, returnees must fill out detailed paperwork, have their fingerprints recorded and retinas scanned, all of which are part of efforts to keep accurate records of how many Afghan refugees have left Pakistan to return home.

Bashir Ahmid, a repatriation officer for the UNHCR, says Khan's reasons for leaving are common.

"As well as the uncertainty, the security situation in Pakistan, inflation in Pakistan in the last five years, scarcity of jobs, job competitions, all this, together with improvements in certain parts of Afghanistan are behind why many people are returning home," Ahmid said.

The numbers of returnees in recent years have not been as high as hoped.

The UN's annual target for repatriations is 150,000 people, but in 2012, only 62,000 returned to Afghanistan.

That fact has not deterred Khan and his family.

With all their belongings and livestock crammed into a large lorryk, they begin their journey by road.

They have to travel through the Khyber Pass, which cuts through Pakistan's lawless tribal areas, where several armed groups, including the Taliban, control nearby regions, and have frequently targeted lorries believed to be carrying goods destined for US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

After several hours on the road, Khan and his family reach the Torkham border crossing, where their time in Pakistan comes to an end and their new life in Afghanistan is about to begin.

Once they cross the border, there is no turning back and what lies ahead is far less certain than what they left behind.

Watch the second part of our series here.