Pakistan is one of the biggest hosts of refugees in the world. The majority of the refugee population in the country consists of Afghan Refugees. Some of these refugees are registered in Pakistan and posses legal documents like Proof of Registration (PoR) card or Afghan Citizen Card (ACC) while others lack any official documents of registration. The Government of Pakistan recently has announced that Afghan Refugees in Pakistan who are not in possession of any legal document that registers them as refugees in the country shall return to their home country.
The return of Afghan refugees from Pakistan is a complex and challenging process. Those who are advised to return may face some challenges. In this article, we will be discussing tips and suggestions for safe returns from Pakistan. The article will help you to understand the process and information in the pre-departure, during travel, and after-arrival stages of your travel.
This is the time when you prepare for your journey. The smoothness and ease of your travel is mostly dependent on how well you prepare in this phase.
Here are few tips that you can follow to prepare for your travel,
i. Gather Essential Documents
Gather all your essential identification documents. This could include your identity cards, passport, visa, letters by government authorities, or any other official document or permit.
ii. Book Tickets or Vehicle on Time
To avoid hassle, book your ticket or vehicle (if you intend to travel on a private taxi or van) a few days before your intended travel date. Confirm your travel date and time. Make sure your travel hours are during the daytime. If you are traveling a longer distance then try to stay at a hotel or guest house in a populated place at nighttime. Traveling at nighttime is discouraged.
iii. Check your Travel Route
Check your travel route and identify areas with potential danger. If possible, plan your route so those areas can be avoided. Also, download your map’s route on your phone or print a hard copy of it.
If you need foreign currency at your destination, get it timely from a money exchanger to avoid any last-minute difficulties. Keep enough cash to last a few days at your destination.
Note: Government of Pakistan has set the threshold of cash that Afghan Refugees can take with them at roughly 175 USD.
v. Doctor Check-up
Before you leave, get yourself and your family checked by a doctor to ensure that you all are healthy and fit for travel. This is necessary to avoid any health issues during the travel. Check if there is any disease outbreak at your arrival destination or on your route, and if possible, get vaccinated against it.
vi. Pack Your Bags
Few tips that you can follow while packing your bags,
• Get yourself and your family good quality bags with sturdy locks for packing so your luggage remains safe and intact.
• Put your name and address on your luggage so it can be easily identified.
• You can also make a checklist of your luggage, which you can use to ensure that you do not leave anything behind.
• Make a small bag with necessary documents for each family member – preferably a cross-body bag or fanny pack – in which you can keep important travel documents, a print of your travel route, and important contact information.
• Pack essential items like a battery bank, cell phone chargers, torches, batteries, a matchbox, soap, hand sanitizer, etc. in a separate bag and keep it handy.
• Food and water on roads are usually packed with germs, which can make you sick, so it is important to pack your own clean water and some snacks. If possible, also pack a small homemade meal for yourself.
vii. Do Not Pack Prohibited Items
Governments over the world do not allow certain items to be carried in and out of their country. This includes firearms like pistol or rifle, explosive material, drugs, etc.
viii. Emergency Contact List
Prepare an emergency contact list with all important contact numbers (it should include numbers from both Pakistan and Afghanistan). Make sure you have these numbers saved in your phone as well as written down in a diary. Also, prepare yourself a list with contact details of government authorities.
To get in touch with UNHCR Afghanistan, you can check the complete contact details on their website here.
ix. Inform Family and Friends of Your Travel Plan
Share your travel plan with your family and friends. If possible, share the number of the vehicle you are traveling in, your departure and arrival time, your route, and photos of your tickets with them.
x. Prepare Comfortable and Weather Appropriate Clothes
Prepare comfortable and weather-appropriate clothes for your travel. Check the weather on your route and at your destination so in case it is colder there, you can pack a sweater, jacket, or shawl.
You can check the weather at areas you will be traveling in and at your destination through The Weather Channel’s website or different weather applications available on your phone.
xi. Avoid Wearing Expensive Items
Do not wear expensive or flashy items like jewelry or watches, as it can put you at risk of robbery.
xii. Make Timely Travel Arrangements to Bus Stop
If you are traveling by bus, make arrangements for travel to the bus stop on time to avoid any last-minute delays.
xiii. Select a Suitable Vehicle for Travel
Ensure that the vehicle you are traveling by is in good condition and fit to be on the road.
Safety tips you should follow on road are,
i. Keep Your Family Together in One Place
Stay together as a family. Do not wander off or around the bus station or at pit stops on your route. Keep babies and children under strict adult supervision. If you have more than one child in your family, assign each adult in the house hold with one or more child to take care of. Take a head count before you leave and at every stop.
ii. Avoid Crowds
Avoid crowds and crowded areas at or around the bus station as you can lose your family members in it or risk your security.
iii. Avoid Scammers
Scammers at the bus stations, on buses, or on the route are common as people are vulnerable to scams during travel. Beware of who you interact with, and do not accept any offers from any strangers.There are different kind of scams that happen on the road, for example, someone might offer to exchange your cash and give you fake currency in return or they might tell you about a cheap place for night stay but instead take you to a dangerous place with criminals. This is why it is important to beware of your surroundings and use your best judgement.
iv. Keep an Eye on Your Valuable Items
If you have any valuable items in your luggage or you are carrying any gadget like a cell phone, radio, or laptop, keep an eye on them. If you have to go to the washroom on your way, leave your valuables with your family only.
v. Do Not Leave your Bags Around
Do not leave your bags around the bus station, on the bus, or at pit stops, as criminal-minded people can put illegal items like drugs, weapons, or any form of explosive in them. Or in some instances the official security can take your unattended items for inspection which can cause delays or issues.
vi. Avoid Taking Food from Strangers
Avoid taking food or water from strangers, as it can put you at risk of being drugged or poisoned.
vii. Avoid Eating from Roadsides
Avoid eating food from the roadside or at pit stops as it can put your health in danger. If necessary, only buy packaged food or food that is made in hygienic conditions.
viii. Take Care of Your Health and Hygiene
Wash your hands before and after using the washroom or eating. Keep hand soap in your bag so you can wash your hands properly with it. If washing your hands is not possible, use hand sanitizer. Wear a face mask if you feel like you might catch flu or any other viral infection from a fellow passenger.
You can check the World Health Organization’s complete guidelines on precautions related to health during travel here.
ix. Cooperate with Authorities at Border Crossings
Make sure you have your documents ready when you reach the border crossing. Cooperate with authorities, share your documents, and answer their questions fully. Only share information you are asked for, but do not conceal necessary information, as it can make you look suspicious. Avoid sarcastic comments and jokes that can put you at risk.
x. Avoid Illegal or Informal Border Crossings
Do not cross borders illegally or through informal border crossing, as it can put you at the risk of being shot or arrested by the authorities. Only cross through the formal border crossing. Pakistan and Afghanistan currently have 8 formal border crossings in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
xi. Avoid Confrontation with Armed or Militant Groups
If you come across any armed or militant group on your way, do not confront or fight them. And take the necessary steps to ensure your family and your safety.
xii. Follow Local Laws to Avoid Problems
When traveling through different places, following their local customs and laws is important to avoid any trouble or issues. Keep yourself informed and stay vigilant.
xiii. Ensure a Safe Night Stay
If your travel involves a night’s stay on your route, choose a hotel or guest house that is in the middle of the city or town to avoid any danger. Do not take offers from strangers to stay at their houses. Inform your family and friends about the name and contact details of the hotel.
Safety measures you can take when you arrive at your destination.
i. Gather Your Family at One Spot
When you arrive at your destination, gather your family at one spot and make sure they have not left any of their belongings on the bus.
ii. Check Your Luggage
Check your bags to ensure you have all your belongings with you. You can use your checklist here to ensure you have all your belongings with you.
iii. Report to Authorities
If you are required to report your arrival to the authorities, then make sure you do it at the first instance. This can be necessary to ensure your safety and getting any aid.
iv. Get a Local SIM
If possible, immediately acquire a local SIM so you can stay connected with your family and friends. Or seek help from authorities in case of an emergency.
v. Inform Your Friends and Family
Inform your family and friends about your arrival at your destination.
vi. Chose a Safe Spot for Stay
If you are staying with your family or friends in Afghanistan, inform them about your arrival so they can pick you up from the bus stop. If you plan to rent a place or stay at a hotel, then make sure you pick one in a safe locality.
Resources in Afghanistan
If you have any questions or you are facing any issues in Afghanistan, you can get in touch with Beporsed Afghanistan through their Facebook page. Or you can contact UNHCR Afghanistan through the contact information given on their website. You can also contact Awaaz Afghanistan by dailing 410 from your phone.
Do you have any questions regarding services for Afghan Refugees in Pakistan? To receive personalized guidance on different service options in the country for Afghan Refugees, you can send us a private message on this Bolo Facebook Page. Our dedicated team of moderators respond to queries from Monday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.