Without voting rights, Afghan refugees face political alienation

Over 4 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran are not allowed to cast their votes in the upcoming Afghan parliamentary election. The refugees fear the next legislative body won't protect their interests.

Afghan refugees living in Iran and Pakistan continue to face an uncertain future, and the upcoming parliamentary election on October 20 doesn't seem to solve any of their problems.

Politics | 04.10.2018

As these refugees are not allowed to vote in the polls, they feel they will have no influence over the legislators in the next parliament.

There is little incentive for these people to return to their homeland. A lack of security in Afghanistan and Kabul's reluctance to support them hinder their return.

Authorities in Islamabad and Tehran urge the Afghan government to take back refugees, as they consider them a burden on their economy. But many of these refugees have been living in the neighboring countries for decades and despite various problems in the host nations, Iran and Pakistan are still a better option for them.

Read more: Iran lauded by UN for hosting refugees

"The government should make sure that we can build our lives if we return to Afghanistan. They should also make sure that we feel part of Afghan society," Malik Matiullah, a Pakistan-based Afghan, told DW.

"And for that we need a government that is willing to work for us and pass legislation that will protect our interests," he added.

According to the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations, over 6 million Afghans live abroad, with a vast majority of them residing in Iran and Pakistan.

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Asia | 09.10.2018

A candidacy for survival in Afghanistan

Not a priority for Kabul

In 2004, over two million Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan voted in the presidential election. Since then, the refugee community has not been included in any Afghan election.

On October 20, 2,565 candidates will compete for 249 seats in the Afghan parliament.

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But Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) decided not to allow refugees in Iran and Pakistan to participate in the polls.

IEC officials say the government did not provide them with sufficient resources to organize the refugee vote.

"Our job is the management of the elections according to the resources available to us […] the main reason we cannot hold the vote in Pakistan and Iran is that we were not provided with enough resources," IEC spokesman Zabi Sadat told media.

But experts say the refugee vote wouldn't have been possible even if the IEC had adequate resources. With a number of security challenges and rising political tensions in the country, refugees in Iran and Pakistan are not on the government's priority list.

"The government should have made sure the participation of all Afghans in the elections, but sadly the refugees are not a priority for anyone," Sughra Saadat, a spokesperson for the Transparent Election Foundation (TEFA), told DW.

A trial run

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan recently announced that his government would grant citizenship to Afghans that were born in Pakistan. But experts say it won't be easy for the new premier to implement this plan.

Iran, on the other hand, continues to deport thousands of Afghan refugees and has not announced any long-term plans for them.

"The only way to end this uncertainty is if Afghan refugees can vote so that the politicians will pay attention to their demands," Saadat said.

Pakistan-based Afghan refugee Matiullah said he had hoped their involvement in Afghanistan's politics would increase with time, but it didn't. "We feel neglected. It seems that nobody is interested in us," he said.

The October 20 parliamentary election is seen as a trail run for next year's crucial presidential vote. IEC officials say they are hopeful that Afghan refugees living in Iran and Pakistan can vote next year.

"We are committed to ensuring their participation in the presidential polls. We will push for it," IEC spokesman Zabi Sadat said.

Read more: EU states push ahead with Afghanistan deportations, despite increased danger

Afghan refugees forced to take a freezing journey back from Iran

Returning to an uncertain future

The International Organization of Migration (IOM) has reported that between 19 and 25 November, thousands of undocumented Afghan refugees returned to Afghanistan from Iran. The IOM said the mass-migration is being caused by deteriorating protection space in Iran. Here hundreds of Afghan refugees are seen crossing the border at Islam Qala, Herat Province in western Afghanistan.

Afghan refugees forced to take a freezing journey back from Iran

A lonely road

According to the IOM, 89 percent of the refugees deported between 19 and 25 November were individuals, out of which the majority were single men. Only seven single female deportees were registered during this time.

Afghan refugees forced to take a freezing journey back from Iran

Protecting the old, sick and vulnerable

Afghan migrants are facing harsh winter temperatures. The IOM provided post-arrival assistance to over 750 vulnerable groups from November 19-25. Included were 127 unaccompanied children, 80 people who needed medical assistance, and 15 unaccompanied elderly. According to the UN, last week 90,000 displaced people received humanitarian assistance and winterization support across Afghanistan.

Afghan refugees forced to take a freezing journey back from Iran

Mistreatment in Iran?

This man told DW that his legs were beaten with a spiked stick in Iran before he was deported. He said he had proper documents to work in Iran, but was sent back anyway. Mohammad Afkhami Rashidi, an official at the Iranian consulate in Herat, told DW that Iran has "no aggressive policies against Afghan refugees being deported" and only wants to "legally regulate the residence of foreigners."

Afghan refugees forced to take a freezing journey back from Iran

Left out in the cold with no way home

This unnamed deportee told DW that he was held at a detention center for 12 days and forced to work and pay for his departure. "It's cold and I am freezing," he said. "In the end I sold my phone and they let me out. Now I am here at the border and I do not even have money to drive to my own province."

Afghan refugees forced to take a freezing journey back from Iran

Refugees as political pawns?

Afghan refugees say host countries use them as "political pressure." The UN said in a report that return rates are influenced by a "number of political and security factors" in Afghanistan and neighboring host countries. Iran, Afghanistan and the UN have an agreement saying that returns should be "voluntary, supportive and timely" and that "returnees" should have access to "basic services."

Afghan refugees forced to take a freezing journey back from Iran

Coming back to a tough life

The IOM estimates that in 2017, a total of approximately 560,000 Afghans could return from Pakistan and Iran. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a recent report that 900,000 internally displaced people are currently living in camps in inhumane conditions across Afghanistan and around 3.3 million Afghans will need humanitarian assistance next year.