Complexities and Challenges in Afghan migration?

If you look at the return programs organized by European governments (usually in partnership with the IOM) you will notice that return and reintegration are often mentioned together, as if they always coincide. However, reintegration (however it is defined) does not automatically follow return. Also, how ‘success’ in reintegration assistance is defined differs: is it where those assisted do not re-migrate? Or, as I would argue, reintegration is a multi-dimensional process that involves (re)negotiating membership in a variety of different spheres of society (economic, political, social, and cultural). In a high mobility society like Afghanistan, with a ‘culture of migration’, further migration may actually be an indicator of successful reintegration into socio-cultural norms (i.e. doing what everyone else is doing), rather than a ‘failure’ of reintegration.

Fieldwork for the PREMIG project (amongst other research) suggests that Afghans in Norway and the UK only sign up for Assisted ‘Voluntary’ Return programs when all other options of staying in Europe have been exhausted and they are ‘volunteering’ to take assisted return rather than be deported. Consequently, I agree with those who only use the term voluntary returnee with regard to people who have the option of a regularized stay in Europe as an alternative to return.

I consider ‘migration’ to be an umbrella term that encompasses many different types of mobile people, including refugees. Policy-makers, however, often see contemporary Afghans travelling abroad as migrants as opposed to refugees. UNHCR points out that this might be difficult for many refugee advocates to accept. Whilst I’m all for recognizing the reality of mixed migration flows, until there is a ‘migrant’ category that offers regularized mobility to people fleeing the kinds of complex webs of poverty and insecurity that many Afghans experience, then I’m very wary of seeing the terms ‘migrant’ and ‘refugee’ separated in the Afghan case.

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