Pakistan-Afghanistan border: families are being uprooted

Woman walking on a street in Afghansitan

More than a million Afghan refugees and migrants are being forced to return to Afghanistan, leaving many with nowhere to go once they cross the border. Terre des hommes Lausanne, the leading Swiss organisation for children's rights, is providing emergency healthcare to children and families at the border.

Another humanitarian crisis is unfolding on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Early October, Pakistan announced that the 1.7 million undocumented Afghan refugees and migrants living in Pakistan must leave the country by the end of the month, after which forced returns are expected to begin. The impact of this announcement is deeply worrying. 

An average of 600 families a day are entering Afghanistan daily, and the situation is getting worse as more people are expected to return. Terre des hommes Lausanne (Tdh) has sent a mobile health team with nurses, a doctor and midwives to the Afghan border to offer medical and psychological assistance to the returnees.

High risks and nowhere to go

On the Afghan side, the sudden announcement by the Pakistani government has left very little time to prepare for the arrival of Afghan refugees. Once they cross the border, children and families are waiting in extremely precarious and overcrowded conditions for their belongings to arrive. 

"The question of what happens to the people sent back at the border remains unanswered. Winter is coming and there are no shelters for them to go to. There is a lack of everything: food, accommodation and medical care," says Erhard Bauer, Head of delegation in Afghanistan.

The Afghan community has been present in Pakistan for a long time and is often very well integrated. Many Afghans were born and raised in Pakistan and built their lives in this country. Therefore, most of the children and families displaced from Pakistan have nowhere to go in Afghanistan, and have no family or community to take them in. They are rendered homeless. 

Additionally, this forced return put at high risk those who fled to Pakistan looking for protection after the Taliban takeover. Women and girls are particularly at risk of persecution and other serious human rights violations. Since the Taliban’s return to power in 2021, the number of people fleeing Afghanistan for Pakistan has increased.

Protracted crisis in prospect 

The Afghan authorities and the international aid community are preparing for a protracted crisis as a further influx of returnees is expected. NGOs working on the ground will have an important role to play. Tdh's teams are delivering medicine and first aid material. However, the situation remains highly challenging due to the lack of funds and a critical shortage of medical supplies.

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