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Nowhere Left to Turn: Afghan Refugees Ejected from Pakistan Find Only Desperation

Nowhere Left to Turn: Afghan Refugees Ejected from Pakistan Find Only Desperation - Fleeing One Crisis, Entering Another

For Afghan refugees ejected from Pakistan, the escape from one humanitarian disaster has catapulted them into the midst of another. Fleeing conflict, instability and deprivation in their homeland, over 2.5 million Afghans had sought shelter in Pakistan over decades of turmoil. Crowded into makeshift camps and shelters across cities like Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta, they endured difficult conditions but held onto hope for better futures. However, as Pakistan's pressures and resentments mounted, the welcome wore thin. Authorities initiated a brutal crackdown on refugees, demolishing camps and accelerating deportations. Families who had built lives over generations in Pakistan were abruptly ordered to vacate and trek back to an uncertain homeland still plagued by fighting and economic ruin. For many, returning to Afghanistan represents a trajectory from one crisis into another still more dangerous and desperate.

Heart-rending scenes have emerged at border crossings like Torkham of Afghan families arriving dust-covered and destitute, clutching their belongings in plastic bags. Many bear the trauma of harsh treatment by Pakistani police who showed little sympathy for their plight. "They came in the night and set our camp on fire, gave us no time to collect our things," recounted one father clinging to his terrified children. Resources in Afghanistan to receive the massive influx are scarce to nonexistent. The fledgling government still battling militias is overwhelmed. After perilous journeys, deportees find minimal security, aid or homecoming support awaiting them. One refugee described his family sleeping roadside in the cold for weeks as nowhere else would take them in. Their meager savings soon vanished just surviving.

Without Pakistani IDs, even basic services are out of reach for the deportees. Mothers told of watching their babies starve and sicken without access to hospitals that once sustaining them in Pakistan. Once literate kids who attended Pakistani schools now face a life of illiteracy and menial work, their dreams shattered. Parents return to find ancestral villages bombed out or occupied. "We have nowhere to call home, in a land I no longer recognize," lamented an elderly man searching for remnants of his family. The wave of returning refugees has overwhelmed aid groups already stretched thin. Resources cannot meet the mammoth needs. Unable to survive in Afghanistan, some opt for risky illegal migration further abroad using smugglers, compounding their desperation.

Nowhere Left to Turn: Afghan Refugees Ejected from Pakistan Find Only Desperation - Cast Adrift With Nowhere to Call Home

For many Afghan refugees deported from Pakistan, the painful truth is that they no longer have any place to truly call home. Most were born or spent decades living in Pakistan building lives indistinguishable from citizens. The local villages, mosques, schools and bazaars of Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta were the only communities they knew. Their Urdu was far better than Pashto or Dari. Being abruptly forced to uproot from Pakistan and return to an Afghanistan they hardly recognize has left them feeling like strangers with no rightful place in either nation.

Bereft deportees describe the disorientation of crossing into an unfamiliar land. Lands once fertile and irrigated are now drought-stricken desert haunted by ghosts of their past. The roads, bridges, and wells they relied on are damaged or nonexistent. One returning refugee remarked, "œWe have been cast adrift, unwanted in Pakistan yet unable to find any foothold back in Afghanistan." Their citizenship claims are denied on both sides of the border.

Without money, homes, or social networks in Afghanistan, many deportees find themselves homeless and destitute. Families sleep on dirt floors of mosques or in makeshift tents beside roads. "œI have never felt so utterly lost and alone," shares a mother cradling her malnourished infant. For women and children already traumatized by forcible relocation, life on the streets leaves them vulnerable to human traffickers. Locals sometimes exploit their desperation for cheap labor.

The lack of community bonds adds to the isolation. Deportees are viewed by some in Afghanistan as outsiders disconnected from local values. "œYou dress and speak like Westerners, not Afghans," scolded one villager. This culture shock makes integration difficult. For children born abroad, war-torn Afghanistan feels like visiting a foreign planet. The broken school system cannot accommodate them either. Illiterate youths face a hopeless future.

Seeking survival, some refugees opt to move into urban slums in Kabul, adding to overcrowding. But with 95% of Kabul deportees jobless, they cannot afford food or heating. Even accessing wells requires paying armed guards. Policing is inadequate in the anarchic camps. Living conditions are so bleak that relocation to Afghanistan is referred to as a "œjourney from hell back to hell."

Nowhere Left to Turn: Afghan Refugees Ejected from Pakistan Find Only Desperation - Left Stranded at the Border With No Aid in Sight

The arduous journeys back to Afghanistan undertaken by deported refugees often end in tragedy at the border itself. Exhausted families arriving at crossings like Torkham after perilous treks find minimal infrastructure or assistance awaiting them on the Afghan side. They are left stranded for days or weeks in a limbo of suffering without food, shelter, medical care or any semblance of aid.

Heartbreaking scenes show crowds of deportees collapsed just past the gated border, lacking even water in the searing heat. "œWe pleaded with guards to just allow us to return to Pakistan, but the gates shut behind us," recalled one mother cradling her wailing infant. With nowhere to turn, families gather what scraps of cardboard and tattered fabric they can to create makeshift tents. But these provide little protection from elements or threats.

In the border chaos, the most vulnerable suffer immensely. Pregnant women go into labor with no medicine or midwives to assist them. Frail elders and babies succumb to illness and dehydration. With no sanitation, contagious diseases spread uncontrolled. Even basic nutrition is unavailable, leaving the young and old especially susceptible. "œEach day my little girl grows weaker, but I have nothing to feed her except dirty water," lamented one grieving father.

Rape and abduction of women stranded at the border has also been reported. Lacking protection and desperate for any food to sustain families, mothers make agonizing choices. "œWe have no option but to split up and beg strangers for scraps, though we know it is not safe," explained one grandmother weeping over her missing granddaughter. There is no authority or system to prevent the most vulnerable from falling prey to exploitation.

The International Organization for Migration has managed to erect some temporary shelters and provide limited medical services. But their capacity is vastly overwhelmed, able to aid only a small percentage of those expelled from Pakistan. Requests to Islamabad to slow deportations have been rebuffed. Afghan authorities are paralyzed to help meaningfully.

For deportees, the lack of reception contrasts painfully with the relatively better conditions they endured in Pakistan. Even survival necessities like clean drinking water are not reliably available. "œIn Pakistan, we had taps with running water provided by aid agencies. But here at our own border, we are somehow worth less than animals," said one man in dismay surveying the squalor.

The border crisis spotlights the chronic lack of integration between refugee policies of the two nations. Neither wants to claim responsibility for displaced Afghans. This leaves families trapped in an aid vacuum, with nowhere to turn. The needless suffering has sparked condemnation from groups like Amnesty International about the "œshocking absence of humanitarian response."

Nowhere Left to Turn: Afghan Refugees Ejected from Pakistan Find Only Desperation - Crowding Into Make-Shift Camps as Resources Dwindle

As Pakistan continues mass deportations, the swelling tide of returning Afghan refugees has led to dangerous overcrowding in makeshift camps within Afghanistan itself. Lacking the capacity or infrastructure to properly absorb the influx, authorities have hastily erected basic tent camps. But these ad hoc refugee settlements often lack adequate food, water, sanitation, and healthcare access to humanely support the booming populations flooding in.

At camps like one near Jalalabad swelling to over 5,000 occupants, new arrivals find not hope, but further desperation. Any small tent or shelter is packed wall to wall with entire families sleeping on dirt floors with barely space to move. The air is filled with coughing and crying babies, the grounds littered with trash. Shared latrines overflow, leaving inhabitants dependent on open defecation. Preventable illnesses like diarrhea spread unchecked, hitting children hardest as malnutrition climbs. With only a single hand pump well and sparse UN food deliveries for thousands, each day is an agonizing battle for survival. Mothers line up before dawn hoping to secure a mere cupful of water and small ration of rice or flour.

Organizations like UNHCR have urgently appealed for increased donations and resources to expand facilities and services. But funding gaps remain dire, and upgrades cannot keep pace with the continuous influx. At camps like Shamshatoo stretched 10 times beyond capacity, clinic staff work around the clock but cannot meet even basic health and nutrition needs. Educators try valiantly to set up classes under trees with donated chalkboards, but few children can attend regularly amidst the chaos.

The pressures continue mounting as urban centers also absorb thousands of refugees. Kabul in particular has witnessed sprawling squatter camps arise overnight around the city perimeter. Tucked in alleys behind dumpsters or crammed into abandoned buildings, these informal settlements hold expellees from Pakistan desperate for any urban lifeline after deportation. However, without steady incomes, their grip on survival is tenuous. All struggle to afford the inflated rents charged by absentee landlords in the ad hoc camps. Owning only the clothes they carry, inhabitants face extremes of cold and heat. Wells and toilets access requires payments to mafia-like middlemen who control the camps.

Nowhere Left to Turn: Afghan Refugees Ejected from Pakistan Find Only Desperation - Forced to Make Perilous Journeys Back to Warzones

Having spent years seeking sanctuary in Pakistan from Afghanistan's turmoil, many refugees now face the bleak choice between remaining destitute or risking the perilous journey back. But returning means confronting a homeland still gripped by conflict despite two decades of war. Taliban insurgents retain control over large swathes of territory, government forces are struggling to maintain security, and terrorist bombings claim innocent lives weekly. Deportees describe the heartrending decision whether staying in misery is less dangerous for children than braving the volatile passage back.

For many, Pakistan's squalid refugee settlements at least represent familiarity, while Afghanistan's chaos carries all uncertain horrors. Mothers hoping to keep family units intact especially fear husbands sent ahead will be killed at Taliban checkpoints or forced to join militias. Cases of youths absorbed into radicalization networks are also frequently reported. One distraught father recounted fighters threatening his 14 year old son with execution if he refused recruitment during their journey.

Parents who manage to keep children close then confront the distress of bombardment, raids, and landmines disrupting the arduous trek. Trekking at night to evade violence, families cower in roadside ditches when passing military convoys appear suddenly around bends. Even a traffic accident can prompt soldiers to open fire indiscriminately. Checkpoints manned by skittish teenage recruits pose another threat. Several returnees described children being killed by jumpy guards after minivans backfired.

Those avoiding major roads face other dangers. Unexploded ordnance from decades of war litter fields and mountain passes once used as smuggling routes. Seeking shelter in abandoned buildings, refugees have accidentally triggered booby traps laid by militias. Danger also lurks in crowds, where suicide bombers mix with civilians at bazaars. At each bridge, intersection, and bus stand, the threat of attacks puts returnees further on edge.

But perhaps the most damaging toll is psychological, as children witness first-hand the true costs of war. Young minds struggle to process the bloodshed and carnage unknown in Pakistan's relative security. One small girl who lost her leg to a mortar blast was found days later still clutching the severed limb, catatonic from the trauma. With limited counseling services available, such deep emotional scars may never properly heal.

Nowhere Left to Turn: Afghan Refugees Ejected from Pakistan Find Only Desperation - Children Suffer Most From Hunger and Disease

The most heartbreaking toll of the refugee crisis falls on the youngest and most innocent victims - the children. Whether in makeshift camps or urban slums, acute malnutrition and disease stalk the thousands of displaced Afghan children now seeking survival in their war-ravaged homeland.

Aid workers describe haunting scenes of infants with stick-thin limbs and swollen bellies indicative of severe malnutrition. The meager rations of flour, oil and sugar that displaced families can scrape together are rarely enough to meet minimum daily calories for healthy growth, let alone provide balanced nutrition. Micronutrient deficiencies lead to anemia, diarrhea and stunted development that may permanently impact kids"™ futures. "œWe are watching a generation grow up mentally and physically handicapped by deprivation," laments a UNICEF nutritionist.

The heavy burden also falls disproportionately on girls, who are often denied equal food when rations run short. "œMy husband insists boys need more just to survive," explains one mother rocking her rail-thin daughter. But it is the youngest most vulnerable. Aid stations overflow with skeletal babies clinging to life, as desperate mothers having lost older children now prioritize keeping infants alive. Yet without formula or breastfeeding support, their prospects remain bleak.

Disease outbreaks only compound the threats. Unsanitary conditions in crowded camps leave children playing amid contamination. Most temporary shelters lack safe drinking water, forcing families to collect from muddy streams or irrigation ditches where animals defecate. Cholera and other water-borne illnesses spread rapidly. Respiratory infections also thrive in cold dusty tent quarters lacking ventilation or heating. Makeshift latrines overflow, further polluting living spaces and attracting vermin.

Healthcare access remains dismal to nonexistent for many displaced families who lack official refugee status. Few can afford scarce private clinics, and public facilities are understaffed and overwhelmed facing the sheer volume of pediatric cases. Just reaching a clinic through dangerous terrain poses another hurdle. Checkpoints manned by arbitrary guards block many refugees"™ transit, leaving the sick immobile. One father described helplessly holding his seizing 6-year-old at a closed crossing, screaming for aid. She perished locked out.

TheThread of childhood malnutrition, sickness and death among displaced Afghan children is perhaps the greatest indictment of the human toll resulting from conflict and the failure of support systems. "œIs this how the world values innocent lives shaped by circumstances beyond their control?" asks one relief coordinator tearfully. She tends to tiny patients whose pain reflects global inequities in who merits help and humanity.

Nowhere Left to Turn: Afghan Refugees Ejected from Pakistan Find Only Desperation - Seeing Dreams Shattered and Futures Erased

For Afghan children forced to flee violence and upheaval in their homeland, having dreams for a better future violently shattered has become an all too common trauma. After years enduring conflict, poverty and disrupted educations, many displaced youths managed to kindle fragile hopes of new lives when families relocated to neighboring Pakistan. Though living in difficult refugee settlements, prospects for work or study still appeared brighter across the border.

But these dreams turned to nightmares when mass deportations back to an increasingly unstable Afghanistan began. Teenagers ready to take college entrance exams saw years of painstaking preparation torn away overnight as deportation orders were issued. "œThe test was next week but now I don"™t even know where I"™ll sleep or find my next meal," despaired Madiha, clutching her books as she boarded a crowded deportation bus.

Other diligent students saw vocational dreams of becoming teachers, engineers or doctors destroyed. Naveed, a 16-year-old who worked nights in a garage while studying days to become a mechanic, described his world collapsing: "œWithout my Pakistan ID and school records, no one will believe I have skills or potential." Earning a decent living to support families now seems impossible for many displaced youths robbed of credentials.

The loss of schooling also disproportionately impacts adolescent girls in highly patriarchal regions. Many families only permitted education while settled in Pakistan"™s relative security. "œNow they say schooling is improper for a girl, and I should marry," lamented 15-year-old Tabasum. With no means to continue studying, early forced marriages become the norm for girls like her.

For still younger children displaced over years between countries, the repeated uprooting has shattered any foundation of normalcy. Twelve-year old Matiullah described struggling with his seventh school in 3 years: "œI have no friends anywhere. My life is always being the new strange kid." Without stability, forming an identity or any sense of home becomes impossible.

The deep trauma of seeing their dreams destroyed haunts many displaced Afghan youths. Psychologists find high rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts among children who narrate internalizing a sense of worthlessness after being robbed of futures. Restoring hope in settings devoid of social and economic opportunity remains enormously difficult.

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