Expansion of IOM Transit Center on Pakistan Border Increases Aid for Afghan Returnees


Afghanistan - Over 55,000 undocumented Afghans returned from Pakistan between 1 January and 18 May 2017. This is double the number of returns during the same period in 2016, the highest return year on record. The UN Migration Agency (IOM) is expecting nearly 600,000 undocumented Afghans to return from Pakistan and Iran by the end of 2017.

On 20 May, IOM reopened its Torkham Transit Centre for undocumented Afghan returnees from Pakistan, following major work to enlarge it. Torkham is in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province close to the summit of the Khyber Pass, the main artery linking the two countries.

Afghanistan’s fragile humanitarian situation and widening conflict in the country mean that undocumented returnees face unique challenges – both on arrival and when they try to reintegrate after as many as three decades abroad. Their priority needs include shelter, food, livelihood-sustaining activities, access to clean water and basic services including health care and education.

Laura Thompson, IOM Deputy Director General, opened the transit centre extension during a three-day mission to Afghanistan. During the visit, she also met with Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), the Minister of Refugees and Repatriation and Social Affairs, as well as other UN and donor partners.

Ambassador Thompson also launched the 2017–2018 edition of the Return of Qualified Afghans programme. A long-running Japanese-funded project launched in 2001, it has helped 586 skilled Afghans return from Iran to take part in 12-month job placements within government agencies.

“In the past two years, the lives of vulnerable Afghans have continued to become more and more precarious, with spiralling levels of conflict and growing pressure on local host communities as influxes of returnees and displaced people stretch their resiliency,” said Ambassador Thompson.

“IOM is committed to working in support of the Government and the people of Afghanistan across the migration spectrum, from the provision of immediate assistance for families at the point of entry, to seeking out longer term reintegration solutions at the community level,” she added.

IOM has been providing post-arrival humanitarian assistance to undocumented returnees from Pakistan at the Torkham border crossing since 2012. The Torkham Transit Centre is one of four IOM centres at border crossing points between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, where returnees can receive assistance in the form of household supplies, food, temporary accommodation, medical care and onward transport to their final destinations in Afghanistan.

IOM aims to provide 100 per cent of undocumented Afghan returnees from Pakistan with immediate humanitarian assistance linked to medium to longer-term, community-based reintegration solutions that address the entire spectrum of needs from the point of first arrival.

The expansion of the Torkham centre has doubled its accommodation capacity to accommodate 30 families or 210 individuals at any one time. Warehousing capacity has been expanded to allow IOM to stock 1,000 family assistance packages at the centre and the facility’s clinic has doubled in size.

Other improvements include the provision of more services for returnees through partners. These include the addition of child-friendly spaces organized by UNICEF, Mine Risk Awareness Education provided by UNMAS/DRC-DDG, and psychosocial and gender-specific support. 

“The scope and scale of the return is impossible for any single agency to address alone,” said Laurence Hart, IOM Chief of Mission and Special Envoy in Afghanistan.

“With hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people returning to Afghanistan, sometimes after decades away, IOM is working closely with the Government, the UN and NGO partners to ensure a comprehensive response. Transit centres where several agencies co-locate and provide specialized services are a good example of this approach,” said Hart.

Support for IOM’s post-arrival humanitarian assistance for returnees is provided by the Governments of Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland, as well as the UN Central Emergency Fund and the European Union (ECHO). Reintegration funding is provided by the European Union’s DG DEVCO.

At the beginning of May, IOM issued an updated funding requirements document outlining the need for USD 52.8 million to assist 292,000 returnees from Pakistan and Iran through March 2018.

For further information, please contact Nasir Haidarzai at IOM Afghanistan. Tel. +93 794 199 542, Email: nhaidarzai@iom.int

  • IOM Deputy Director General Laura Thompson (center) inaugurates the expanded Torkham Transit Center. Photo: IOM

  • The UN Migration Agency (IOM) Deputy Director General Laura Thompson (center) inaugurates the expanded Torkham Transit Center. Photo: IOM