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View the documentCASE STUDY: Some issues for repatriation: De-mining in Afghanistan

CASE STUDY: Some issues for repatriation: De-mining in Afghanistan

Case Study Some Issues for Repatriation in Afghanistan

Sources: UNHCR, The State of the World's Refugees, 1993, p. 111.

Christina M. Schultz, "Promoting Economic Self-Reliance: A Case Study of Refugee Women in Pakistan", Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 47/no. 2 Winter 1994, p. 557-578.


In the late 1970's, the exodus of war-displaced persons from Afghanistan to Pakistan generated over five million refugees, the world's largest refugee population at that time. Many have lived in Pakistan for over fifteen years. Two key factors encouraged refugees in Pakistan to begin returning to Afghanistan in 1992. The new government of Afghanistan provided hope for peace, and the government of Pakistan had reduced the food and water supplies to the camps implying that it was no longer able to support large numbers of refugees as it had in the past. More than three million left Pakistan in 1992 and 93.

About two million refugees, however, are not willing to return yet due to disputes over property and continued fighting. In Afghanistan, as in other places such as Angola, Cambodia and Mozambique, returnees often find a devastated national infrastructure and countryside full of dangerous land mines. Due to the disintegration of the Afghan economy, it is likely that many returnees will leave at least one wage earner behind, or will seasonally migrate to Pakistan or other countries in search of employment. Economic projects are vital for the both the returnees and the country where they will be returning.

The problem of land mines: Afghanistan is littered with land mines to the degree that ordinary people going about their daily lives are in danger. At least two hundred thousand persons have been disabled by land mines during the war. According to some estimates, up to ten million mines of different types have been scattered individually, dropped from the air, or planted in concentrated mine fields. The patterns and locations are not predictable.

The labor intensive and costly de-mining process is carried out by UNOCHA, the UN agency which coordinates humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. Nearly 2,000 Afghans have been trained by de-mining experts and are able to clear about 10 square kilometers per year, mostly by hand. By early 1993, more than 60,000 explosive devices had been removed. It will take three to five additional years to clear priority areas such as roads, canals and agricultural land.

It is crucial that returnees to Afghanistan receive mine-awareness training before going home. Despite the training given to refugees returning from Pakistan, the numbers of mine-related causalities have increased dramatically since April of 1992. Many die before reaching a clinic. Training needs to be reinforced for all those returning from Pakistan and Iran.

Promoting economic self-reliance for women: The situation of Afghan refugee women in Pakistan was altered by culture, politics and religion. A stricter version of Purdah, or separation of males and females in public, occurred in the confinement of the refugee camps. Neither urban nor rural women had typically followed these procedures in their homelands, and often for the first time, educated urban women had to constrict their activities as determined by conservative tribal and religious leaders.

Refugee organizations implementing income generating ventures, particularly in handicrafts, faced many constraints. Women suffered constant ridicule for holding jobs. Male Afghan leaders needed to be convinced that women should work for their own benefit. Respecting Purdah, separate project centers and classes for skills and language were needed. There was also a lack of statistics and information about female refugees and insufficient involvement by relief organizations in the refugee community. Local merchants opposed Afghan handicrafts in the market and there were constraints in Pakistan to exporting the handicrafts. Women were often not involved in other projects such as large scale public works projects.

A mixture of successes and failures occurred regarding income generating projects. It was obvious that better mechanisms had to be developed to overcome cultural constraints if women were to become self sufficient when they returned to Afghanistan, especially in the cases of women head-of-households. Despite the odds, it is hoped that once women are back home, the long term effects of the income generating projects will be noticeable.