Refugee and Mixed Migration Displacement from Afghanistan

26th August 2021
Author: William Avis

This rapid literature review summarises evidence and key lessons that exist regarding previous refugee and mixed migration displacement from Afghanistan to surrounding countries. The review identified a diverse literature that explored past refugee and mixed migration, with a range of quantitative and qualitative studies identified. A complex and fluid picture is presented with waves of mixed migration (both outflow and inflow) associated with key events including the: Soviet–Afghan War (1979–1989); Afghan Civil War (1992–96); Taliban Rule (1996–2001); War in Afghanistan (2001–2021). A contextual picture emerges of Afghans having a long history of using mobility as a survival strategy or as social, economic and political insurance for improving livelihoods or to escape conflict and natural disasters. Whilst violence has been a principal driver of population movements among Afghans, it is not the only cause. Migration has also been associated with natural disasters (primarily drought) which is considered a particular issue across much of the country – this is associated primarily with internal displacement. Further to this, COVID-19 is impacting upon and prompting migration to and from Afghanistan. Data on refugee and mixed migration movement is diverse and at times contradictory given the fluidity and the blurring of boundaries between types of movements. Various estimates exist for numbers of Afghanistan refugees globally. It is also important to note that migratory flows are often fluid involving settlement in neighbouring countries, return to Afghanistan. In many countries, Afghani migrants and refugees face uncertain political situations and have, in recent years, been ‘coerced’ into returning to Afghanistan with much discussion of a ‘return bias’ being evident in official policies. The literature identified in this report (a mix of academic, humanitarian agency and NGO) is predominantly focused on Pakistan and Iran with a less established evidence base on the scale of Afghan refugee and migrant communities in other countries in the region. . Whilst conflict has been a primary driver of displacement, it has intersected with drought conditions and poor adherence to COVID-19 mitigation protocols. Past efforts to address displacement internationally have affirmed return as the primary objective in relation to durable solutions; practically, efforts promoted improved programming interventions towards creating conditions for sustainable return and achieving improved reintegration prospects for those already returned to Afghanistan.

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Suggested Citation

Avis, W. (2021). Refugee and Mixed Migration Displacement from Afghanistan. K4D Helpdesk Report No. 1041. Institute of Development Studies, DOI: 10.19088/K4D.2022.002


26th August 2021


Continent: Asia

Country: Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan