For the first time in eight years a group of Afghan refugees in Pakistan has been on a Go and See visit to explore the possibility of a safe and dignified future return. The success of the visit has led to optimism and expectation of more visits to be planned.
By December 2012 the registration cards of the 1.8 million registred Afghan refugees in Pakistan will expire and it doesn’t seem likely that the Pakistani Government will allow new cards to issued, thereby creating a stong push factor for the refugees to go back. In anticipation of a large scale repatriation the Danish Refugee Council are working to ensure the returns will happen voluntarily, safe and dignified.
To that end the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) in Pakistan has worked closely together with DRC Afghanistan to start a process of enabling the refugees to make a well-informed decision and to prepare better for return. The first step has been to arrange the first Go and See visit for refugees from the Utmanzai Afghan Reugee camp in Pakistan to six villages in Kama District, the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan.
“We have started a process that isn’t finished yet. Through this process, the displaced families will be better able to assess their possibilities to return in light of the current situation in their village of origin. The idea behind the visits is that refugee representatives can see for themselves the conditions in their homeland, then return to tell their fellow refugees about the situation so they can make an informed decision about repatriating,” says Matteo Paoltroni, Programme manager, DRC Pakistan.
The first Go and See participants were selected by a number of criteria, among them an intention of going home. Then the DRC field protection team visited the villages the refugees came from to make sure they would be welcomed by the community they originally came from. Step number three was the Go and See visit that took place a week ago, this visit is now to be evaluated, the participants to be interviewed about their experiences and expectations for a future return.
“The group of refugees that went were quite satisfied about the security condition of the district they were to return to. And both host community and returnees were very glad to meet their relatives. Afterwards one of the participants mentioned to me that he felt, it was the duty of the refugees to return and to build the new Afghanistan,” says Matteo Paoltroni.
The process was supported by national authorities, both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, the representatives from the latter even joined in the visit to the villages. Furthermore UNHCR contributed to and took part in the visit as well.
"Both the refugees and the host communities were very positive to the process. Our main concern now is if a large scale repatriation will happen too fast for the host communities to be able to absorb them, giving the returnees no other choice than to go living in the already overcroweded informal settlements of Kabul,” says Matteo Paoltroni, who is to meet up with UNHCR Afghanistan to discuss continuing the Go and See visits in the coming months, and possibly replicating the visits on Afghan refugees in Iran.