There may be no greater indicator of conditions inside Afghanistan than the decisions of refugees to return or those displaced to leave.
Decades of war created an Afghan refugee crisis that has been one of the worlds largest. This vulnerable community has at times been seen as a destabilizing factor in Iran and Pakistan, the countries that host the largest number.
UNHCR has issued a statement that the number of Afghans returning from Pakistan has fallen by almost 60% since last year.
The lack of jobs, land, shelter, and violence from increased fighting in eastern Afghanistan, are the most frequently cited reasons for not returning.
In Iran, the number of Afghans returning is increasing due in part to a government decision cut off subsidies for food, fuel, and other commodities for both Iranian and Afghan families.
The reductions were part of government cost-cutting measures after the country was placed under US-led international sanction over its nuclear program.
An estimated 1.7 million Afghan remain as refugees in Pakistan with the majority living in the border provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Due to weather, the UN does not seek to repatriate Afghans from Pakistan during the winter months.
About 4.6 million Afghans have returned since 2002, helped by the UNHCR and its government counterparts. In total, about 5.7 million have returned from Pakistan and Iran, roughly 25 per cent of the total population.
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