A majority of the 4.7 million Afghan refugees who have returned home since the ouster of the hard-line Taliban regime in 2001 feel optimistic about the future even as they believe they are worse off economically than their neighbours, according to a United Nations-commissioned study which cites concerns over future absorption capacity.
“While there have been difficulties for some, the majority of returnees have responded successfully and resiliently to the same challenges and opportunities faced by all Afghans,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) country representative Jacques Mouchet said of the study, which painted a generally positive picture of the integration of returnees into the labour market.
The European Commission-funded report, commissioned by UNHCR and the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) and conducted by Kabul-based Altai Consulting, studied more than 600 rural and urban households – about 4,200 people – and 100 enterprises in the provinces of Kabul, Herat in the west and Nangarhar in the east.
Some 40 per cent of the returnees live in these provinces, which have performed well compared to others.
The study found that the average monthly income per household was $212, compared to mean monthly expenditure of $200, but income distribution showed 10 per cent earning an average of $920, and 90 per cent an average of $130. Of the latter, 35 per cent had an income of less than $100 per month.
Many said that during their years overseas they had gained knowledge, skills, education, and new social and economic connections, but they noted difficulties caused by loss of family, property, land and livelihood. A total of 53 per cent believed they were worse off economically than their neighbours, while adding that their social status, education and skill levels had improved and they could face the future with optimism.
The survey raised concerns about the Afghan economy’s future absorption capacity, finding that new approaches would be needed if the majority of the estimated 3.5 million Afghans still in Iran and Pakistan are to return.
It recommended that to avoid social exclusion of those with limited assets, skills and networks, more emphasis will be needed on social integration, labour intensive employment programmes and market oriented vocational training.
Meanwhile, the reintegration of better-educated Afghans and those with resources could be enhanced through business development services, access to credit and employment placement services, it said.