In One Image Homecoming By Elise Blanchard

They were going the wrong way.

That wall marks the border with Pakistan. Where they had been. Where they wanted to be.

But for the seven families jammed into this truck, Afghanistan was home again. Even if they had nowhere to go.

Clothes, a rusted iron bed frame, a fan. When Pakistan ordered them out, they packed everything they might need.


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April 7, 2024, 12:01 a.m. ET

For years, hundreds of thousands of Afghans fleeing the turmoil of war crossed the border into Pakistan, hoping to start over again. Many of them succeeded in doing so.

Now, Pakistan is cracking down.

Over the past half-year, more than half a million undocumented Afghans, ordered by the Pakistani government to leave, have returned home — even if “home” is the country they once escaped, and one that has little more to offer them now.

That was only the first round of expulsions. According to reports in the Pakistani news media, a second one is about to begin.

When I got to the Torkham border crossing to take photos as the first refugees were crossing over in October, it was already beginning to look like an exodus. Aid workers were only just starting to set up.

Many of the Afghans had hired trucks with high back walls that afforded only a glimpse of lives in turmoil. Old furniture poked above the edges, sometimes with children perched atop, but while it was obvious that other people were inside, they remained concealed from view.

When I was eventually given permission to climb a flimsy ladder to look inside, I understood that modesty helped explain the concealment. In the bed of the truck were women, and safe from public view, they had been traveling without burqas. They put them on before I began photographing.

It was a scene of desperation. Some of the children were clearly very sick. Two lay with their heads on their mother’s lap. A woman was hooked up to an IV. And there was no food or water in sight.

The families had already spent many hours in the trucks, and their journey was far from over. If they were unwelcome in Pakistan, they were hardly embraced upon their return. Before they could move on, they were told, they had to register.

That could take days.

Afghans returning from Pakistan waited for processing in October at a border crossing in Nangarhar Province.

Written by Eric Nagourney.

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