Afghanistan Flash Appeal: One Million People on the Move (Covering Sep-Dec 2016)

Key Figures:

1 million people expected to move from Sep to Dec 2016

  • 400,000 undocumented returnees
  • 220,000 refugee returnees
  • 400,000 internally displaced

US$ 152 million requested for Sep-Dec 2016

Crisis Overview

Over one million people are anticipated to be “on the move” internally and across borders in 2016.  This includes newly displaced and newly returning Afghans, many of whom will require humanitarian assistance.

These figures, mainly triggered by the recent surge in the return of registered refugees and undocumented Afghans from Pakistan, far surpass planning figures for the 2016 Humanitarian Response Plan and have the potential to significantly impact an already fragile humanitarian context within Afghanistan.  A cumulative estimate suggests over 1 million people have been displaced across Afghanistan since 2002 which gives an estimation of the magnitude of the possible humanitarian crisis.

Since the end of the mid- July Eid, the amount of returns has skyrocketed: 225,000 people have returned from Pakistan and Iran so far in 2016, out of which 89,000 are documented and 136,000 undocumented, most of them in the last six weeks.

By the end of the year, a repatriation caseload of 220,000 documented and as many as 400,000 undocumented returnees are anticipated, a much higher number than planned for by UN or humanitarian aid agencies.

This spike in returns is motivated by different factors, including an apparent drastic deterioration of the protection/political space in Pakistan with increasing incidents of detention, forced evictions, police raids and harassment. From Iran the return of undocumented Afghans remains high, while repatriation of registered refugees remains voluntary, safe and dignified and is minimal in numbers.

The sudden increase in return is taking place against a backdrop of continued high levels of conflict-induced displacement, following similar patterns to 2015 which recorded the highest level of displacement since 2002.  To date, 245,000 have been newly displaced across the country in 2016 with forced displacements now recorded in 31 out of the 34 provinces. Total numbers will exceed the HRP displacement estimations of 250,000 newly displaced and 100,000 prolonged IDPs.  A total of 400,000 newly displaced IDPs are expected by the end of the year as the conflict escalates, with the Northern, Southern and Eastern regions of the country registering the highest numbers.

While newly displaced people are provided with a basic one- month assistance package, many have now been displaced for prolonged periods with less opportunity to return home, and might require further support.

This adds to the over 3.5 million people in Afghanistan who require humanitarian assistance. The majority (57%) of the emergency affected population are children, while 23% are women.

An Upcoming Humanitarian Crisis

By year–end, over one million people are projected to be affected by new political or security developments on both sides of the border, prompting sudden and unanticipated displacements and returns. Many are expected to require some form of humanitarian assistance, especially as the cold winter season approaches and many go without proper accommodation or shelter. Many returnees have lived in Pakistan for three to four decades and have lost family linkages in Afghanistan.  Given the nature of the harassment in Pakistan many returnees are unable to properly plan their return, have been forced to sell their assets quickly at reduced rates, and lack coping strategies and support systems within Afghanistan. A large segment of the returnee population, around 40%, is considered highly vulnerable (IOM).

Returns are expected to occur even in greater numbers, including clustered family returns of large groups above 1,000 persons, following the September Eid holiday and a November 15th cut-off date imposed by the Pakistani Government requiring all undocumented Afghans to have acquired formal documentation, which is expected to prompt a further surge in returns and/or deportations.  Moreover, the expiration of the Proof of Registration cards at the end of 2016 could result in a further increase in the return of registered refugees.

The majority of returnees come from Khyber Pukhtunkhwa in Pakistan and are reporting to go primarily to Kabul and Nangarhar provinces (51% for the registered and 85% for the undocumented).  This sudden increase is already placing a significant strain on local resources and services, depleting coping mechanisms in under-served communities which are, in many cases, already hosting also a high number of new and protracted conflict-induced IDPs. 

The concentration of returnees in urban centres and semi-urban areas, specifically Jalalabad and Kabul, alongside the lack of absorption capacity, and other factors such as a dysfunctional land allocation system and lack of shelter capacity, will increase current trends of secondary displacement and lead to acute humanitarian emergency needs particularly during the winter months.

While the majority of accessible conflict-displaced IDPs are assisted on time, assistance is typically limited to a one-month package which is insufficient for those that are displaced beyond an initial period of a few weeks. With only 20% of the overall Returnee requirements listed in the Humanitarian Response Plan covered, initially based on lower return projections, the humanitarian community has not received sufficient funding to meet the increased needs for the rest of 2016.

While the numbers of returnees coming back to Afghanistan is far exceeding expectations and resources, the overall vulnerability of the population has also increased.  The increased population requiring humanitarian assistance, coupled with insufficient funding, means that programmes for vulnerable returnees are all seriously under-resourced. In addition, the emergency shelter and NFI, health, WASH, nutrition, protection and food security activities and services planned in the HRP are likely to remain underfunded considering the high humanitarian needs across the country triggered by the sustained internal displacement and the overall level of humanitarian funding available.

An initial rapid assessment undertaken in the six highest districts in central Nangarhar on 4-5 September has provided qualitative data which indicates that shelter is the primary need, with further significant concerns regarding health, WASH and food security; lack of secure tenure further presents a pervasive protection risk.  Due to the sudden and considerable influx, local resources and basic services in Nangahar have become dangerously overstretched, particularly in the capital of Jalalabad, with many returning communities living in open areas and multiple occupancy dwellings, heightening their exposure to the elements, disease and protection.

In this context the remaining four months of the year will require a well-coordinated and multi-faceted advocacy and operational response by humanitarian community to avert a potential humanitarian crisis as winter approaches.

Humanitarian Response

Currently, Afghans with the appropriate documents are provided with a repatriation grant of USD 400 when they return to Afghanistan. Undocumented returnee families receive a one-month package of support at the border in Torkham. Internally displaced families also receive one-month support assistance.

Through this appeal, the humanitarian community will work to meet the following needs until the end of the year:

  • Ensuring a dignified and efficient reception of returnees, registration, profiling, support at the border as well as the provision of immediate assistance for the most vulnerable. This includes repatriation grants received for those documented as well as assistance packages for those undocumented.
  • Creating a safe environment and ensuring access to food, basic services like health, a safe and adequate shelter as well as to utilities, critical infrastructure and income generating activities.
  • Identifying and prioritising the most vulnerable, including returnees and conflict affected IDPs.
  • Prioritising Kabul and Jalalabad for immediate humanitarian response:  The combined waves of internal displacement and mass return are expected to disproportionately impact major urban centers, particularly Kabul and Jalalabad, as they relatively secure areas, regarded by displaced and returning population as more conducive to find self-reliance opportunities.
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:

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