Repatriation and state reconstruction : tracing the agency of Afghan returnees in the face of human insecurity




Wojdyla, Stella Maria

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Since the beginnings of the Afghan refugee crisis, aid agencies have provided consistent and substantial relief to Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran. However, the response was framed by the assumption that mostly short-term humanitarian aid is re-quired because refugees will return to Afghanistan once the conflict ends. This report challenges the "conflict-refugee" concept by focusing on refugee agency in the face of human insecurity and the complexity of Afghan population movements, which include transnational networks, mixed migration, and hybrid identities. The discussion concentrates on the period from 2002 to 2005, when UNHCR facilitated sizable surges of voluntary returns while the Afghan state was still in the initial reconstruction phase. Regardless of UNHCR's repatriation program, the refugee crisis persisted as a significant number of repatriates decided to return to Pakistan and Iran or cross the border repeatedly. To explain the causes and consequences of this phenomenon of refugee backflows, I offer the following argument: The backflow of repatriated refu-gees consisted of both voluntary and forced migrants. Voluntary migrants continued ex-isting practices of circular migration to pursue their preferred livelihood strategies. Forced migrants, however, responded to human insecurity in Afghanistan with migratory coping strategies as their only available form of agency. This distinction has several implications for future reconstruction and repatriation efforts: On the one hand, reconstruction plans should integrate the potential constructive effects of voluntary migration. These effects include remittances, the transfer of human capital, as well as the reduction of pressures on the labor market, infrastructures and so-cial services in the transitional state. On the other hand, UNHCR should only facilitate repatriation once a minimum level of human security on all levels is guaranteed to ensure safe and dignified returns and prevent continued forced migration.



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