Children on the move

Young Afghan migrants receive support after hazardous journey home

By Aziz Froutan and Nicole Foster
Rahim, a deportee from Iran at Islam-Qala border in western Afghanistan.
UNICEF Afghanistan/2016/Froutan
07 September 2016

HERAT, Afghanistan, 7 September 2016 — Running from conflict, poverty and extreme weather, large numbers of Afghan youths leave the country in search of a better life abroad.

Usually aged between 12 and 17 but sometimes as young as 10 years-old, they are among the most vulnerable people on earth — children on the edge.

Among them, around 30 unaccompanied minors arrive every day at the Islam Qala border in western Afghanistan, the country’s main border crossing with Iran.

Without their Tazkira (identity card), these minors arrive at the border by bus, exhausted from a gruelling journey, and often with no legal documentation to identify them.

Migrants crossing Islam-Qala border crossing point back to Afghanistan
UNICEF Afghanistan/2016/Froutan

Islam Qala in western Afghanistan is the country’s main border crossing with Iran. Since 2009, the International Organization for Migration has assisted nearly 23,000 unaccompanied migrant children crossing back into Afghanistan.

With support from the Government of Japan, UNICEF through its partner War Child UK, provides a decent meal, first aid care and psychosocial support, and helps to gather vital tracing information to help identify the minors before transporting them to transit centres to be reunited with their families.

In the past month alone, UNICEF rescued 160 such unaccompanied minors at the border: all of them have been reunited with their families.

An Afghan Border Police officer receiving a boss carrying migrants
UNICEF Afghanistan/2016/Froutan

Afghan border police at the Islam Qala border crossing receive a bus carrying migrants, including unaccompanied minors. These minors make up the largest group of vulnerable Afghans returning from Iran.

Migrants arriving to Afghanistan in a bus
UNICEF Afghanistan/2016/Froutan

UNICEF, through its partner War Child UK, identify unaccompanied minors among the passengers arriving at the Islam Qala border. These children usually travel alongside adults in large buses. Most of them have no idea what to expect during the grueling journey or what will happen to them next.

Ahmad and Rahim, two unaccompanied minors being registered to re-enter Afghanistan
UNICEF Afghanistan/2016/Froutan

Ahmad and Rahim lost everything. They were picked up by local police at the construction site where they had been working and sent to a refugee transit camp. Government officials from the Department of Refugees and Repatriation register minors to allow them to re-enter Afghanistan. UNICEF works closely with the department to strengthen the process of identification and the case management of unaccompanied minors and separated children.

Fazil, an unaccompanied minor back in Afghanistan, being interviewed about his life in Afghanistan before he left.
UNICEF Afghanistan/2016/Froutan

Fazil is interviewed about his life in Afghanistan before he left the country and his experiences as an unaccompanied minor working abroad. This interview will help to locate his family. It is also part of a broader effort to build the capacity of the Department of Refugees and Repatriation, Border Police, and other government agencies and NGOs around child protection issues and how to interview children.

Naim has his first meal since the beginning of his journey home.
UNICEF Afghanistan/2016/Froutan
A man holding a deportees' registration form
UNICEF Afghanistan/2016/Froutan

Naim has his first meal since the beginning of his journey home. Children, especially those from rural areas and internally displaced communities, are forced into hazardous labour to help support their family or repay debts. Some of them will migrate illegally to Iran. Others will to make the longer journey to European countries.

Bashir, an unaccompanied minor holding his registration card
UNICEF Afghanistan/2016/Froutan

Bashir just received a vital document: he has been registered as a returning unaccompanied minor and now holds an official card containing all the key information about his journey. Soon, he will be reunited with his family.

*All names have been changed to protect identities.