As the opportunities for labour-migrants seeking seasonal work in Afghanistan during the planting and harvesting seasons are limited, the vast majority of in-migration to Afghanistan over the past three decades has been the repatriation of Afghans who left the country during periods of instability (Monsutti 2006).

In April 2002, a tripartite agreement among the Interim Authority of Afghanistan, Islamic Republic of Iran and UNHCR was signed, supporting the commencement of the voluntary return of Afghan citizens. This was followed in 2003 by a similar tripartite agreement among the Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and UNHCR. About three million Afghans returned to their home country between 2002 and 2005 under the programme, including about 800,000 from the Islamic Republic of Iran and more than two million from Pakistan (figure 2). UNHCR estimates that about 4.5 million Afghan refugees have been repatriated from the two countries since 2002 (UNHCR no date).

With regards to Pakistan, many Afghan migrants living in the northern part of the country returned home in 2008 and 2009 due to the high cost of living, lack of employment opportunities and the deteriorating law and order situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (UNHCR 2011).

Despite the country’s high unemployment rate, migrant workers from other countries are employed in Afghanistan due to skill mismatch, especially in the construction industry. In 2006, some 60,000 Pakistani labour migrants were reportedly working in Afghanistan, with the majority holding seasonal construction jobs (Yousafzai and others 2006). Nepal, alone, reported an outflow of 1,292 workers to Afghanistan in 2009 (NIDS 2010).

In addition to activities that focus on assisting returning refugees with financial assistance (UNHCR 2006) or providing technical and vocational skills to enhance the income generation potential of returnees (IOM 2008), the Government of Afghanistan and international organizations have initiated several projects aimed at increasing the return of qualified expatriates to Afghanistan. Principal among these is the Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) Expatriate Services Program that places returning Afghan citizens in government ministries (Embassy of Afghanistan 2010).

In 2011, a tripartite agreement among Afghanistan, Australia and UNHCR was signed to assist in building the capacity of government ministries, and to cover both the humanitarian migration of Afghans to Australia, and the return of Afghans who had made unsuccessful claims for protection in Australia (Australia Department of Immigration and Citizenship 2011).

Currently, 18,204 inhabitants live in an estimated 37 informal settlements in the Afghanistan capital, Kabul. A World Bank-UNHCR study conducted in 2011 of urban displacement in Afghanistan found that more than 90 per cent of those surveyed intended to settle permanently in cities. The study noted that members of internally displaced people (IDP) households tend to have lower literacy rates and formal levels of education, with 20 per cent of the males illiterate and only one of 100 women surveyed able to read. Also the severe acute malnutrition rate among this group was as high as 11 per cent and almost 20 per cent of the children aged 10–16 years must contribute to family income generating activities. These inhabitants survive in makeshift tents or shanties with inadequate infrastructure to maintain and sustain dignified living conditions (OCHA no date, World Bank and UNHCR 2011).3


3 See