Afghanistan has for decades provided refuge to tens of thousands of refugees, many of whom returned home in 2017 in a bid to rebuild their lives after 17 years as refugees in Pakistan.
But a new study published this month in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology reports that at least 30% of the expected returnees continue to suffer acute low blood pressure and heart problems.
“Many people thought that it would be simple to come back from exile to Afghanistan,” explains study co-author Eric May of Oregon Health & Science University in the US. “We wanted to find out why that was so difficult.”
May and his colleagues drew on numerous databases to build a detailed picture of how 1,364 Afghans were harmed by returning home, mostly with serious health problems ranging from low blood pressure to heart failure.
Almost two-thirds were returned after being hit by a missile, an incident that destroys the heart muscle. The others suffered health problems despite living outdoors in a hot, dusty, sometimes harsh country.
Many of the returnees had been living in Pakistan or Iran, both countries with significant Afghan populations. Women suffered the most serious consequences of living in those countries, as did children, May notes.
In fact, the returnees were more likely to develop a health problem when they crossed the border from Iran than they were when they returned from Pakistan. “People are fine here [in Afghanistan],” May says.
The report comes as the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says the number of people displaced worldwide reached a record 65.8 million at the end of 2017. While most of the people are from strife-ridden countries, 28.7 million people have been forced to flee from Afghanistan since 2001, largely for their homes.
The research comes as US President Donald Trump has called for all 30,000 Afghans, who remain in the country after the drawdown of NATO forces, to be withdrawn by the end of the year.
The US has spent more than $200 billion in aid since the toppling of the Taliban by the US-led invasion in 2001.