Reception Centre Islam Qala
Many communities in Afghanistan have fled from violent conflict and natural disasters in the past years and decades. Overall, a third of Afghanistan’s population has migrated or been displaced since 2012. The majority gravitated to places close to home – to the neighbouring countries Pakistan and Iran.
Despite finding refuge in these states, the harsh experience of being uprooted often continues in the host countries, especially if the refugees’ situation is unregulated and laws do not protect them. Many Afghans are therefore returning to their country of origin, once again in search for a more stable environment. This return is not always voluntary, as the host countries’ authorities also deport people to the border crossings. According to recent data published by the IOM, of the 10,659 unregistered Afghans who crossed back into Afghanistan from Iran through the prominent Nimroz and Islam Qala border crossings, more than half were deported. Overall, the IOM counted 451,073 returnees from Iran in 2019. To be deported means to have even less opportunity to plan one’s journey, making people even more vulnerable.
The border crossing Islam Qala is the main transit checkpoint at the Iran-Afghan border. Initially, it was created by the UNHCR in 2010 to facilitate voluntary return of Afghans from Iran. With the increase in deportations however, the existing facility became overwhelmed by the 700 to 1,500 people who started passing through each day. The lack of capacities made orderly screenings of returnees impossible, which includes assessing their situation and vulnerabilities, providing information, and ensuring the protection of women and children.
Financed by: German Federal Foreign Office (FFO) through KfW and PATRIP Foundation
Implemented by: Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)
Duration: January 2017 – June 2019
Budget: 420,000.00 EUR
Beneficiaries: 421,255 per year (as by IOM data)
Key Outputs: Provision of adequate waiting rooms, improvement of screening and registration, provision of safety procedures and orientation and information sessions
NRC aimed at improving the existing infrastructure at Islam Qala in a way that would allow for the screening and registration for large numbers of people, including the provision of information according to their situation. The new facilities should ensure that returnees were treated with dignity, could access proper sanitation facilities, and did not have to continue their journeys without better information about the security situation along their indicated route.
In doing so, NRC hoped to improve the coordination with several important stakeholders and thereby enhance the services offered to returnees, including legal advice, medical assistance, as well as protection for particularly vulnerable groups, such as women and unaccompanied children and youth. Overall, the ambition was to contribute to a more regulated and humane border crossing process, which would contribute to a safer, more stable environment along the border.
In order to shed light on the situation, the Afghan Directorate of Refugees and Repatriations (DoRR) sought to collaborate with several humanitarian stakeholders active in the border region, among them the UNHCR, UNICEF, IOM, and international NGOs. Together with the NRC, the DoRR conducted an assessment field visit to the Islam Qala facility. This close consultation with the DoRR defined the entire project and made it clear from the start that the facilities improved by NRC would be subsequently handed over to the DoRR. To help facilitate the complex coordination process, an official communication system was established between all relevant stakeholders active along the border, including the border police.
NRC divided the responsibilities for different project outputs, by outsourcing the design and construction works of the facility to local companies. Meanwhile, NRC focused on the crucial aspects of coordinating and negotiating with different stakeholders, most prominently involving the Afghan police force, the DoRR, and even the Ministry of the Interior. NRC also facilitated visits by the IOM, UNHCR, UNICEF and the DoRR to the facility to further coordinate different tasks and responsibilities with regards to the operation and management of the facility.
Since the project dealt with extremely vulnerable groups, including unaccompanied children and youth who had been deported by authorities, NRC had to ensure that the highest standards of the Do-No-Harm approach were upheld. This included looking at returnees in terms of individual groups based on age, gender, and other aspects, and to tailor the approach towards them bearing in mind potentially sensitive issues. Moreover, staff working at the reception centre, including DoRR officials, received a two-day protection training.
Since hundreds of people were daily passing through the improved facility immediately after it was set up, NRC was able to quickly gather data on their target group’s experience. Results of interviews with returnees showed that 96% of interviewed returnees stated that that it was easy for them to access useful, reliable, and relevant information at the improved Islam Qala facility. Where previously the experience of passing through the border crossing involved waiting in one of the four hangars that existed at Islam Qala, individuals can now access a much more suitable waiting space while they wait for a proper registration process and information sessions on gaining access to livelihood initiatives once back in their home communities.
Moreover, the improved Islam Qala facility further informed authorities’ approach to dealing with large numbers of returnees. As a consequence of the project, relevant stakeholders, including the DoRR, expressed willingness to plan similar services and apply similar solutions to improve the experience of the remigration process for returnees.
NRC’s project made a valuable contribution to the overall coordination between important stakeholders operating on both sides of the border. By establishing a well-functioning facility, NRC encouraged both local authorities as well as humanitarian agencies active in the area to work together on similar initiatives regarding better information provision for people on the move between borders. Increased cooperation and exchange between these different stakeholders are the key to creating a more stable environment in the area. In promoting this type of facility, NRC’s project made it clear that stability is not rooted in enforcement, but rather based on transparency and support.
The PATRIP Foundation supports the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. In 2015, all member states of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda, whose main purpose was the introduction of 17 goals for sustainable development (SDGs). The goals aim at the joint creation of a world in which people are able to live together peacefully, as well as in ecologically compatible, socially just, and economically effective ways.
The described project contributes to the following Sustainable Development Goals: