IRC programs aid Afghan refugees returning home and many more still in exile

News and Press Release
Originally published
The IRC began an extensive relief program for Afghan refugees in Pakistan in early 1980 when the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan created a mass exodus to neighboring countries. With factional fighting continuing in Afghanistan today, the IRC continues to assist communities in exile through comprehensive medical, public health, education, and self-reliance programs. Since 1988, the IRC has been involved in rehabilitating services in Afghanistan for returning refugees and facilitating their reintegration into Afghan communities.

The December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan resulted in hundreds of thousands of Afghans fleeing to neighboring Pakistan and Iran. By the end of the 1980s, out of an estimated pre-war population of 20 million, over five million Afghans were still living in exile and the flow of refugees continued. The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet-backed communist government in 1992 heralded major repatriation efforts, with hundreds of thousands of Afghans returning to their ancestral homes. However the repatriation process suffered a serious setback when internecine fighting broke out among Afghan factions vying for supremacy in the capital Kabul. An estimated two million Afghans in Pakistan and 1.4 million in Iran remain in exile. Factional fighting, a fragile security environment, destroyed physical infrastructures, a lack of economic opportunities and landmines strewn throughout the country are obstacles that prevent Afghan refugees from retuning to their homeland.


The IRC began its program for Afghan refugees in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan in response to the massive influx of Afghan refugees into Pakistan following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Within a few years, IRC health, education, sanitation, water supply and self-reliance and income-generation programs stretched from Hangu-Thal area south of Peshawar, to Peshawar and its environs, serving over 250,000 Afghan refugees. Following the signing of the Geneva Accords in 1988, which laid the groundwork for Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the IRC initiated cross-border projects in Afghanistan to facilitate the process of repatriation. Today, the IRC assists Afghan returnees through vocational training, microcredit schemes, and rehabilitation of the rural infrastructure of Afghanistan.


Programs for Afghan Refugees in Pakistan

The IRC's Program for Afghan Refugees in Pakistan focuses on providing assistance to under-served refugee areas. Special consideration is given to projects for minority populations and projects that expand services to women and children.

To promote sustainability, the IRC's Pakistan program funds projects that have a high degree of community support and involvement so that the local community can eventually maintain the activities independently. To support the development of local aid groups and strengthen their institutional capabilities, the IRC works with a limited number of local groups with a proven track record of project implementation and provides them with training and consultation services.

Health Care Program: The IRC Hangu-based health care program operates a network of 11 health units providing both curative and preventive health services to nearly 135,000 Afghan refugee residents in 12 refugee villages in the Hangu-Thal area, about 115 kilometers south of Peshawar. There is also an IRC-run pre and post-natal health unit. The program trains community health workers, hundreds of whom have returned to Afghanistan to carry out health care work. The IRC has made substantial progress in reducing the incidence of malaria, measles, malnutrition and diarrhea in the region.

Water Supply / Sanitation Program: The IRC has rehabilitated wells in 62 refugee villages in Pakistan's northwestern province and provides maintenance and chlorination services. The IRC also provides waste management education. The program works closely with water and waste management committees in refugee villages.

Female Education / Health Program: The female education program currently supports a total of 30 schools and 49 community-based classes in Peshawar and in outlying refugee villages throughout the northwest province, with nearly 18,000 students enrolled. IRC staff also provide basic teacher training for female refugee teachers, which covers curriculum development for pre-school (kodakistan) and beyond, health issues and land-mine awareness. In September 1999, a secondary education support program was initiated, which focuses on improving the quality of secondary education as well as expanding access to education for Afghan female refugees.

The female health education project, a segment of the education program, seeks to improve health conditions and raise the level of health education in Afghan refugee villages. The project aims to equip female health educators and school teachers with the knowledge and skills necessary to teach Afghan women and children in camps in schools primary disease prevention and hygiene.

Afghanistan Rehabilitation Program

The IRC's Afghanistan Rehabilitation Program in 1998 assists communities in the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia and Logar in revitalizing their infrastructure and local economies, with the goal of encouraging the repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan. IRC's Gardez office in Afghanistan serves as the primary operations facility for IRC's integrated and multisectoral rehabilitation strategy.

Rural Assistance Program: The IRC supports and funds local non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations in Afghanistan to implement sustainable micro projects in the areas of education, vocational training, agriculture, irrigation, engineering and financial management. The programs, which try to draw in women, respond to specific areas of vulnerability in communities of repatriated refugees.

Agriculture Projects: IRC agriculture extension workers provide farmers with training and subsidized resources, like improved seed varieties, to increase and improve farming practices and production. Farms are monitored to ensure they are applying the new techniques.

Water Program: IRC water teams rehabilitate shallow wells and sub-contract to local groups to construct wells. Communities provide labor and local materials and are responsible for maintenance.

Micro-Credit and Apprenticeship Scheme: The IRC's Small Business Assistance Project assists in establishing small sustainable enterprises in several areas. Training and loans, to both men and women, are also available. The IRC also arranges apprenticeships to promising workers from Nangarhar and Kabul provinces. After completing a nine-month apprenticeship with a trainer, the trainee qualifies for loans to start her/his business.

Education Program: The IRC maintains a basic education program in villages in five Afghan provinces. The IRC provides teacher training, classroom materials and supervision, while communities assume responsibility for providing classrooms and teacher salaries. In 1999, 21 villages supported 59 community-based classes serving nearly 2,000 students, including 500 girls.

Herat Reintegration Program: This specialized program aims to reintegrate Afghan refugees repatriating from Iran to their ancestral homes in Herat Province in Afghanistan.


Semir Tanovic, Program Assistant

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Melissa Winkler, Director of Communications
Phone: (212) 551-0972