Contrary to my earlier view of the prospects of posting more today, I have to return here with this: ICG's latest report on Afghanistan, dated August 31, is now out, and it is about a subject I long since wanted to read something more comprehensive of. Refugee returns. The state of affairs in Iran and Pakistan. And so on. While the report mostly reveals to me how uncertain our knowledge still is about even the basic numbers, like regarding how many people still remain in the two main refugee host countries Iran and Pakistan, and how many keep crossing there and back in the meantime, I still recommend it, as it is as good as it gets, currently.
An important trend, discussed in the report, that I would highlight here, is:
"The past seven years of refugee return, internal displacement and secondary migration have caused rapid urbanisation. Although cities have always attracted labour migrants from the countryside, ongoing conflict has replaced a largely seasonal and male presence with longer term settlement of entire families searching for security in towns and cities."
And so did Kabul grow from a city of approximately 1.5 million to 4.5 million, in about seven years...
Meanwhile, of course, in the rural areas, too, refugee returns can very much become an issue from the point of view of local stability and conflict, as, for example, this is observable in the case of Pasthuns willing to return to northern provinces, such as Takhar, for example. Or in Baghlan, where I have met such people myself, as IDPs.
Altogether, the issue is interesting from an analytical point of view, because it can be looked at in so many ways. Returnees can be motors of economic growth, motors of organised crime, carriers of conflict, sources of conflict, or, say, possible recruits for an insurgency. They hold potential in so many ways... In a country that would, ideally, clearly need them.
But the current conditions make everything much more complicated, in case anyone failed to notice. As the report notes, Afghans, be they Pashtun, Hazara or others, organise into permanent transnational solidarity networks (btw, here's a lengthy but excellent paper about those) in growing numbers - as the temporary becomes permanent in their region; London, Dubai, Peshawar, Quetta and other such places being major geographical hubs, out of many, for these networks...
The ICG report reminded me of something, as it described in detail how Iran and Pakistan turn on the refugees from time to time, and how for example Iranian authorities push Afghans out of the country. While it is a concern what the two aforementioned countries do, one should also keep in mind that even with far smaller numbers of migrants, countries like Greece and others do very similar things. See the links below:
The NYT article even provides a hyperlink to this Human Rights Watch report about the truly bad treatment of Afghan and other refugees in Greece. Forcing refugees to cross the river Evros at night, back to Turkey? Aren't there mines even, along that border between NATO allies Greece and Turkey? (Yes, there are. They killed about 31 people since 1999, up to October 2003.)
I would naively point out that it can't be so bad here in Europe that such an approach would really be necessary in my view... still even the NYT article says, at one point:
"The boys pose a challenge for European countries, many of which have sent troops to fight in Afghanistan but whose publics question the rationale for the war. Though each country has an obligation under national and international law to provide for them, the cost of doing so is yet another problem for a continent already grappling with tens of thousands of migrants."
Can't imagine what it must be like in Pakistan and Iran... Though I also seem to remember that Europe's economy kind of needs the influx of these people.