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Cablegate: 2007 Afghan Refugee Returns and Likely 2008 Repatriation

VZCZCXRO5850
OO RUEHIK RUEHPW RUEHYG
DE RUEHBUL #4006/01 3410411
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 070411Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1654
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 KABUL 004006

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR SCA/FO DAS GASTRIGHT, SCA/A, PRM
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR AID/ANE, AID/DCHA/DG
NSC FOR JWOOD
OSD FOR SHIVERS
CG CJTF-82, POLAD, JICCENT

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREF PREL PHUM AF
SUBJECT: 2007 AFGHAN REFUGEE RETURNS AND LIKELY 2008 REPATRIATION
AND DEPORTATION TRENDS

REF: A. Kabul 03386
B. Kabul 03856

1. (SBU) Summary. Iran's deportations of undocumented Afghans in
the spring of 2007 and Pakistan's push to repatriate its Afghan
population by the end of 2009 have resulted in increased returns
that put a squeeze on the fragile support system in place in
Afghanistan. So far this year, UNHCR has assisted 354,078 Afghan
returnees, compared to 139,804 in 2006. UNHCR has closed the 2007
repatriation operations for this season on the Pakistan border and
does not anticipate (but is prepared for) another mass deportation
event from Iran before spring. But with an extremely limited
capacity to absorb another wave of desperately poor, unskilled, and
landless refugees, Afghanistan faces enormous challenges in
successfully reintegrating and supporting this returnee population.
End Summary.

Who Is Returning (Or Not) And Where They Go
-------------------------------------------
2. (U) The world's largest refugee population for two decades,
approximately six million Afghans fled to more than 70 countries,
with the vast majority in Pakistan and Iran. UNHCR assisted 3.5
million of these refugees to return home in 2002-2005 and another
million returned "spontaneously" i.e., without assistance. This
flow slowed markedly in 2006 with only an additional 139,804
assisted and 248,065 spontaneous returns. The trend continued in
the first months of 2007, with the humanitarian community accepting
that most of those who remained abroad would resettle permanently in
their countries of refuge. Over 50% of Afghans abroad were born in
exile, and the majority of Afghans in Iran and Pakistan have lived
there for over twenty years. Returning is now increasingly
difficult for them. Of those who have returned, the majority were
Pashtun (56%), Tajik (25%), and Hazara (8%), with a fairly even
male/female ratio. Returnees are largely illiterate; 63% with no
education at all and few job skills. Most of the uneducated
returnees end up in the Eastern provinces, followed by Kunduz,
Baghlan, Herat, and Kandahar.

Long-Term Afghan Refugees in Pakistan Hesitant to Leave
--------------------------------------------- ----------
3. (SBU) Pakistan had welcomed Afghan refugees when they first
arrived in 1979, but that welcome cooled as Afghans were perceived
as "taking over" the transport and construction sectors and blamed
for Pakistan's security problem in Northwest Frontier Province,
where most camps are located. The Afghan/Pak/UNHCR Tripartite
Agreement, which was extended for three years in August 2007, sets
forth the principle of "voluntary, gradual, and dignified" return.
The Tripartite Agreement does call for the eventual closure of
Pakistan's refugee camps, home to 42% of the Afghan refugee
population.

4. (SBU) In 2006, Pakistan registered 2.5 million Afghans, giving
them a Proof of Registration (POR) card valid only through 2009. In
August 2007, Pakistan tried to close the 75,000-person Jalozai camp,
but UNHCR and AmEmbassies Kabul and Islamabad vigorously opposed
closure so late into the repatriation season. Pakistan backed down,
but Jalozai elders have promised to vacate the camp in March 2008.
Pakistani officials privately acknowledge that many Afghans have no
intention of voluntarily leaving their long-term home in Pakistan.
They are expected to simply fade into Pakistan's economy.

The Pakistani "Push" Is Increasing
----------------------------------
5. (SBU) Pakistan is stepping up forced returns, with immigration
police arresting and deporting up to 500 undocumented Afghans at a
time. An EC monitoring report states that one of the major
motivators for current returns to Afghanistan is the fear of arrest
and detention in Pakistan, particularly for non-POR holders. While
Pakistan's repatriation strategy envisions 800,000 Afghans per year
departing "voluntarily" from 2007 to 2009, GoP refugee officials say
they will consult with the Afghan government before deporting large
numbers of undocumented Afghans. The GoP stressed that it does not
want to "add to [Afghanistan's problems] through a mass deportation
from Pakistan," but many returnees continue to claim they were
forced out by Pakistani police, even though they had nowhere to go
in Afghanistan.


KABUL 00004006 002 OF 003


Afghans in Iran Forced Home After Years of Integration
--------------------------------------------- ---------
6. (SBU) In contrast to Pakistan's more consultative approach, Iran
moved unilaterally to increase the tempo of deportations of
undocumented Afghans from the border areas. (Ref A) The one million
registered Afghan refugees (and 0.9 unregistered migrants) are
well-integrated in Iran and generally tolerated. But Iran has
deported 687,353 Afghans from 2002 to 2007, and deportations surged
in Spring 2007 with 269,500 individuals, resulting in a humanitarian
crisis and the Afghan Minister of Refugees and Repatriation losing
his job. In October and November, Iran began implementing a "No Go
Areas" policy in Sistaan-Baluchestan and four cities in Iran's
northern Golestan, with the policy intended to eventually cover 19
districts throughout Iran. As of late November, Iran has deported
325,000 Afghans during 2007. Deportees were mostly single men
working illegally in Iran, but some legitimate refugee families were
also arrested and deported, often in the middle of the night without
time to collect their belongings or notify absent family members.

7. (SBU) Deportations continue, though the Iranians are currently
deporting less than 7,000 individuals a week, with no signs of a
major increase during winter. UNHCR has developed a contingency
plan in the event of a mass deportation crisis, especially since
their information shows most returnees are from Afghanistan's more
unstable western and southwestern provinces and may choose to camp
out in Herat or Farah rather than return to these areas. Iranian
registration data indicates most Afghans in Iran come from
Afghanistan's relatively safe Northern and Central provinces, but
many believe Iran manipulates the registration data to deflect
international criticism of their forced deportations into unstable
provinces. UNHCR is attempting to obtain more information from
border interviews to determine to which province most people return
and how vulnerable they are.

Lack of Sustainable Repatriation Contributes to Reverse Migration
--------------------------------------------- ----------
8. (SBU) The new buzzwords of "reverse migration" and "sustainable
repatriation" reflect the increasing trend of Afghans returning to
Pakistan and to Iran after unsuccessful attempts to resettle in
Afghanistan. The trend reflects the lack of "pull" factors to
attract voluntary returns and hold returnees in Afghanistan.
Problems with the environment and refugee system impact the
sustainability of returns. A snapshot of UNHCR border monitoring
shows that 77% of reverse migration back into Pakistan is due to
lack of livelihood opportunities in Afghanistan, mostly for day
laborers. Most of these refugees had repatriated in 2007 with the
one-time, increased ($100 USD) cash assistance UNHCR provided, but
it was not enough to ensure sustainable repatriation and
reintegration. To stem the reverse migration, most refugee policy
officials want donors to increase refugee assistance in Afghanistan
to entice people to stay rather than provide more assistance in
Pakistan and keep them there.

The New Minister of Refugees and Repatriation
---------------------------------------------
9. (SBU) New Minister of Refugees and Repatriation (MORR) Sheer
Mohammad Etebari has been on the job for a week and is struggling
with the magnitude of the job before him.
(Ref B) UNHCR is working closely with the minister to craft an
action plan for MORR reform, and all the western delegations,
including Post, are meeting with him unilaterally to reinforce the
reform message. So far, Etebari has shown a willingness to listen
and learn, which is already significant improvement over his
predecessor.

Looking Ahead at 2008 Returns
-----------------------------
10. (SBU) Notwithstanding some recent noises from Pakistan that it
wants to close camps near the Swat Valley to stem the violence there
- another instance of blaming Afghan refugees for Pakistan's
security problems - UNHCR and MORR do not anticipate any major
refugee movements from Pakistan until Spring 2008. From Iran, we
expect deportations to pick up in February and March, the end of
Iran's calendar year. The problem is that Afghanistan's harsh
winter can turn even a manageable number into a bedraggled and
starving humanitarian crisis. The Refugee Sections in both
Islamabad and Kabul are working with UNHCR and host government

KABUL 00004006 003 OF 003


officials to devise a plan for the spring influx. Without strong
assistance and reintegration programs in Afghanistan, however, more
reverse migration may occur as refugees decide that life abroad is
easier, more lucrative, and relatively easy to achieve.

DELL

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