Coming home to war: Afghan refugees return reluctantly from Pakistan

Thu Sep 3, 2015 7:48pm EDT
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By Frank Jack Daniel

KABUL (Reuters) - Rahim Khan's return to Afghanistan 28 years after fleeing to Pakistan was not the homecoming he had dreamed of.

The 60-year-old is one of a growing number of Afghan refugees making the journey back with trepidation, as militant violence intensifies, yet feeling shunned by their adopted country as relations between the neighbors sour.

The rate of returnees has more than quadrupled this year, with 137,000 refugees going back to Afghanistan since January.

The number could spike further if the countries fail to agree by Dec. 31 to extend identity cards for two years and allow some 1.5 million registered refugees to stay in Pakistan.

The chill in relations, amid an offensive by Taliban insurgents which Kabul blames partly on Pakistan, has put the extension in doubt, along with the future of another million unregistered Afghans.

"First we had to leave here because of war. Now we are coming back to war and bombs," said Khan, speaking at a refugee center near Kabul where his Pakistan-born grandchildren were being taught the dangers of mines and roadside bombs.

Outside, the thump of exploding ordnance from a nearby army range echoed off arid hills, another reminder that Afghanistan appears no closer to peace than when Khan left during the Soviet occupation.

The dangers mean thousands of people have fled Afghanistan this year, many of them to Europe where governments are struggling to cope with an influx of migrants from the Middle East and beyond.   Continued...

Afghan refugee children, returning from Pakistan, watch a short video clip about mines at a mines and explosives awareness program at a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) registration centre in Kabul, Afghanistan September 2, 2015. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood