Living Conditions and Settlement Decisions of Recent Afghan Returnees: Findings from a 2018 Phone Survey of Afghan Returnees and UNHCR data

Mohammad Haroon, Nandini Krishnan, Jeffrey Savage, Christina Wieser, and Thea Yde-Jensen


More than 2 million displaced Afghans have returned to Afghanistan between 2014 and 2016, the majority from Pakistan, including over half a million registered refugees who returned under UNHCR’s voluntary return program. This report describes and analyzes the living conditions of Afghan refugees who returned from Pakistan in 2014 or after, with a particular emphasis on documented returnees.  It sheds light on the decision of return, the choice of destination, and returnee livelihoods.

The analysis is based on data from the 2011 Afghan Population Profiling, Verification and Response survey (PPVR) covering 507,000 registered Afghans who lived in Pakistan in 2011, the Voluntary Repatriation Form survey (VRF) covering 125,000 returned to Afghanistan between 2014 and 2017, and the 2018 World Bank Phone Survey (WBPS) of post-2013 returnees. To assess the change in living conditions of post-2013 returnees after their return to Afghanistan, registered returnees in the PPVR are matched with documented post-2013 returnees in the WBPS applying propensity score matching methods.


Key findings:

  • Afghan refugees who returned to Afghanistan between 2014 and 2017 tended to be worse off in monetary terms than refugees who stayed in Pakistan. Afghan refugees who returned between 2014 and 2017 were less wealthy, lived in refugee villages or temporary housing in Pakistan, had previously considered repatriating, and visited Afghanistan regularly. However, there is some evidence that registered Afghan refugees with at least some formal education were more likely to return.
  • Most refugees returned to their province of origin, prioritizing proximity to social networks even though these provinces tended to have lower employment rates and higher poverty rates. Afghans living in their province of origin were more likely to be employed and were less likely to have the same type of job as they did before returning—suggesting that social networks may have assisted returnees to find work. Returnees who do not settle in their province of origin move to relatively urban areas in search of safety, services and employment opportunities.
  • Recent returnees are living under difficult circumstances. Afghan returnee households are large and although most families have at least one person working for pay, they have low job stability and low wages.
  • Returnees generally experience a deterioration in employment opportunities, wages, and job stability after returning to Afghanistan. Most returnees work as daily wage laborers in non-agriculture, and returnees generally experience a decrease in the employment opportunities, wages, and job stability after returning to Afghanistan.
  • Access to education improves post return for both boys and girls and the gender-gap in school attendance is reduced, driven by an increase in the number of households where all girls attend school.
  • Returnees tended to be more urbanized than hosts, with relatively better outcomes on a range of socio-economic measures (e.g. higher exposure to formal education, greater access to infrastructure). However, male returnees had lower employment-to-population ratios, lower labor force participation rates, and slightly higher unemployment rates. Returnees also suffered higher indebtedness, on average, and were less likely to own their own homes.