Most border movements for social, economic reasons: UN study

16 Jun 2009

Most border movements for social, economic reasons: UN study

15 June 2009 - A new United Nations-commissioned study has found that cross-border movements between Afghanistan and Pakistan are more to do with socio-cultural links and economic factors than by conflict.


The study marks a major diversion from the long-perceived understanding that cross-border movement was fuelled by the growing insurgency and violence on both sides of the border.

The head of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Afghanistan, Ewen Macleod told a news conference in Kabul that the new trend of movements across the 2,250 kilometre long porous border is “encouraging in many ways”.

“For most of the last three decades, most policymakers have explained movements to and from Afghanistan predominantly in refugee terms,” said a press release issued by UNHCR. “But the new study reveals that the majority of Afghans travelling to and from Pakistan are temporary migrants and are not driven to flee their country because of security or protection concerns.”

Mr Macleod expressed his belief that it is good for both countries. “This is an entirely normal situation,” he said. “However what is not normal about it is that the vast majority of these movements are not regulated.”

He said recent violence in Pakistan hasn’t impacted dramatically on the movement of Afghans across the border.

“Just to give you the statistics: only 3,000 Afghans from these five affected districts in northern Pakistan, that is upper and lower Deer, Bunir, Sawabi and Swat have crossed the border since the beginning of these disturbances, perhaps nine per cent of all returns this year. In other words, it is not a dramatic situation so far,” he said.

He also pointed out the fact that the people are crossing the border everyday without any kind of travel or identity documents and they are crossing the international border without being subject to any official process for checking or verification.

“It’s our hope that this research work will encourage the two governments to see how best to address and manage this issue,” said Mr Macleod, adding that the unchecked cross-border movements might have contributed to loss of revenues in both the countries.

“But clearly there are losses of revenues from normal customs practices when goods are smuggled; money is not received from the purchasing of good and it leads to inefficiencies,” he added.

The UNHCR report has been released five days before World Refugee Day 2009 on 20 June under the theme “Real People, Real Needs”.

Afghans interviewed for the study did not express any interest in moving their families to Pakistan. They intended to migrate on a “temporary and cyclical” basis not as a movement for the purpose of establishing permanent residence, according to the study.

Nassim Majidi, the Project Director of Altai Consulting that carried out the study in September and November 2008 with support from the European Commission, said the field work was carried out at two main crossing points at Torkham in Nangarhar and Spin Boldak in Kandahar.

The quantitative field work consisted of large scale study and extensive interviews with more than 2,000 migrants coming in both directions – to Pakistan and from Pakistan.

“On an average day in September 2008 at Torkham, over 55,000 individuals crossed the border in both directions, and at Spin Boldak, over 25,000 individuals,” said Ms Majidi.

“The main decision-making factor for travel to Pakistan today is economic. 64.6 per cent of Afghans cite the lack of work in Afghanistan as the main reason for travelling to Pakistan… The objective is to meet immediate family needs, not to accumulate wealth or savings,” she added.

The research recommends that border police practices can be addressed at the field level and bilateral negotiations will be required at the Government level, given the lack of regulation on cross border movements and the porous nature of this border.

“It is the responsibility of the two governments to provide an effective border management strategy,” added Ms Majidi.

By Tilak Pokharel, (UNAMA).

Website: UNHCR Afghanistan