Afghanistan’s Displaced People: A Socio-Economic Profile, 2013-2014

Thea Yde-Jensen, Nandini Krishnan, Xiayun Tan, and Christina Wieser

Poverty and Equity Global Practice, The World Bank Group, 2018


This paper analyzes data from the 2013-14 Afghanistan Living Conditions Survey (ALCS) to compare the socio-economic profiles of returned refugees, IDPs, and non-displaced hosts. The survey covers the largest return of Afghans following the fall of the Taliban in 2002, but precedes the more recent large-scale return of Afghan refugees from Pakistan in 2016-17. Data was collected just prior to the transfer of security responsibilities from international troops to the Afghan National Security Forces in 2014, which was associated with a subsequent decline in aid and a sharp drop in economic activity. Results show:

  • Widespread socio-economic hardship affecting most segments of Afghan society at the time of ALCS 2013-14 including low educational attainment, poor living conditions, limited coverage of basic services, high household debt levels, and inadequate access to stable employment. On most socioeconomic variables, there were sharp urban/rural and gender disparities.
  • 7 percent of the surveyed population were returned refugees (back in Afghanistan for an average of 9 years), and 2.4 percent were IDPs.
  • Returnees were more urbanized than other groups. Almost half (45 percent) of returnees lived in urban areas, compared to less than a quarter of IDPs and hosts. About 45 percent of returnees lived in Kabul province alone. Returnees’ higher urbanization was associated with relatively better education, dwelling characteristics, access to infrastructure, and labor market outcomes. On the other hand, returnees suffered higher indebtedness, and were less likely to own their own homes. The authors note that the group of returnees captured in the ALCS 2013-14 were part of a largely voluntary return after the fall of the Taliban, and their characteristics and outcomes may differ markedly from subsequent returns
  • Educational attainment was very low across all groups (more than 50 percent had no formal education, only 35 percent could read or write), and there were sharp urban/rural and gender disparities. Returnees had more exposure to formal education and higher literacy rates than IDPs and non-displaced hosts.
  • Returnees were twice as likely to use the Internet as members of other groups, presumably linked to their higher urbanization and educational attainment. 13.2 percent of returnees used the Internet, compared to 5.5 percent of hosts and 4.3 percent of IDPs.
  • While labor market outcomes were very poor across all groups, IDPs had the lowest employment rates. Employment sectors varied across displacement groups, consistent with differences in their education levels and rates of urbanization. IDPs and hosts were more likely to be employed in the agriculture sector, while returnees were more likely to be employed in construction and the service sector. Returnees tended to hold the most secure jobs, though access to secure, salaried jobs was low across all groups.
  • IDPs had the lowest employment-to-population ratios but the highest labor force participation rates. Over 30 percent of IDPs in the labor force were unemployed (40 percent of IDPs in urban areas were unemployed). Returnees and IDPs had higher unemployment and underemployment rates compared to hosts, an indication that finding work for displaced populations was challenging.
  • Returnees enjoyed better dwelling characteristics and greater access to services, in line with their higher rates of urbanization, but had lower housing ownership, relative to other groups. Non-displaced hosts had the highest rates of ownership of dwellings and agricultural land.
  • While rates of indebtedness were high across all groups, displaced households (returnees and IDPs) were more likely than hosts to have debt.
  • In line with their better education, better labor market outcomes, and higher urbanization, returnees reported the highest rates of ownership of nonagricultural assets.
  • IDPs experienced the least favorable outcomes on many measures, e.g. they reported the highest unemployment rates, lowest rates of access to infrastructure, and higher indebtedness, although IDPs’ debt per capita was lower than that of the other groups.