‘In tents again’: Life comes full circle for Afghans expelled from Pakistan

Many Afghans fled to Pakistan after the Soviet invasion in the late 1970s – only to be forcefully returned to a homeland in crisis.

Torkham, Afghanistan – Gul Khan Kaka was in his early 20s when he had to abandon his home and flee to neighbouring Pakistan after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, a war that lasted a decade.

Four decades later, Kaka, now 62, is a refugee again – this time as an undocumented Afghan driven out of Pakistan as part of a government crackdown on “illegal” foreigners.

“We left our homes, embarking on a journey on horses and donkeys towards Pakistan, desperate to save our lives,” he told Al Jazeera at a camp established by the Taliban authorities near Torkham, the main border crossing between the South Asian nations.

“Forty years ago, we lived in tents and now we find ourselves in tents again. That’s the entire of my life story.”

Tens of thousands of nearly 1.7 million undocumented Afghans in Pakistan – some for decades, with homes and livelihoods – have been crossing into Pakistan since November 1, the deadline announced by the Pakistani government for the refugees to leave.

Once on the other side, they turn into refugees within their own homeland, impoverished by decades of wars and conflict and now facing a severe food and jobs crisis – a country where 15 of its 40 million people do not know where their next meal will come from.

The Taliban administration has set up two main camps, in Torkham and Spin Boldak, along the Pakistan border to facilitate the daily transfer of the refugees to their respective hometowns and villages across Afghanistan.

The United Nations estimates that more than 330,000 Afghans have left Pakistan since November 1. This week, Pakistan opened three more border crossings in southwestern Balochistan province to expedite its expulsion campaign.

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