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Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees, to support Voluntary Repatriation, Sustainable Integration and Assistance to Host Countries

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.Executive Summary

Since 2002, some 5.7 million Afghans have returned home, ending years of living in exile.
Following the first major exodus in 1979, the saga of the Afghan refugees has had many significant aspects: it represents the longest protracted refugee caseload in the history of UNHCR, of which the vast majority (80%) has been in exile for over twenty years, as well as the largest voluntary repatriation programme ever facilitated by UNHCR. Returnees represent, moreover, almost one quarter of the entire population in Afghanistan. To illustrate, the scale of this movement is comparable to every person in Ireland moving to the Netherlands, with some 80% of them arriving over a period of just four years. For any country, let alone one ravaged by war, underdevelopment and ongoing security operations, creating conditions for sustainable reintegration on such a massive scale would be an overwhelming task.

Voluntary repatriation remains the preferred durable solution for the refugees. However, while there were massive returns between 2002 and 2008, the past three years have seen a steady decline in overall return figures. This trend reflects the lack of access to livelihoods and basic services in return areas, and heightened insecurity in some parts of Afghanistan, where civilian casualties and internal displacement have been increasing. Yet efforts towards nation-building are progressing slowly, accompanied by some positive trends: a GDP growth of 8.2%; a seven-fold increase in the number of teachers; access to basic health services for 85% of the population; and an impressive drop in maternal mortality from 1,400 to 327 per 100,000 live births.

Despite such progress, Afghanistan remains the poorest country in the region, ranking 181 out of 182 on the UNDP Human Development Index. An average of 36% of the population live below the poverty line; inflation is around 9%; and little progress has been made to facilitate private sector development and investment needed to create employment. A recent survey has shown that up to 60% of returnees are experiencing difficulties rebuilding their lives. Large numbers of Afghans continue to migrate to cities within Afghanistan or to neighbouring countries, seeking livelihood opportunities. Disenchanted youths returning to communities that lack basic social services and work, see few opportunities for their future.

Despite these challenges, firmly anchoring those who have returned by providing a minimum standard of living and livelihood opportunities is critical for the stability and security of Afghanistan. Meanwhile, pending their return, the situation of Afghan refugees in neighbouring countries must be managed, and alternative solutions strengthened. New initiatives require support to preserve the asylum space still afforded to the 2 million refugees currently registered in Pakistan2 and the approximately 1 million refugees in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Bonn Conference held in December 2011 rightly acknowledged “the burden of Afghanistan’s neighbours, in particular Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran, in providing temporary refuge to millions of Afghans in difficult times” and confirmed the commitment to “further work toward their voluntary, safe and orderly return”.3 In view of the complexity of refugee issues still affecting the region as a whole, and the potential volatility of the forthcoming transition process, the Islamic Republics of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, with the support of UNHCR, initiated a quadripartite consultative process in 2011. The Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees, to Support Voluntary Repatriation,
Sustainable Reintegration and Assistance to Host Countries is the culmination of an intensive, collaborative negotiation process. It represents the consensus of the three Governments concerned, the UNHCR country representation offices, as well as relevant UN agencies, to develop a multi-year approach to this Strategy.

Three main themes underscore the Solutions Strategy:

•  Creating conditions conducive to voluntary repatriation through community-based investments in areas of high return;

•  Building Afghan refugee capital based on livelihood opportunities in Afghanistan in order to facilitate return; and

•  Preserving asylum space in host countries, including enhanced support for refugee hosting communities, alternative temporary stay arrangements for the residual caseload, and resettlement in third countries.

The proposed interventions in each country fall within five outcome areas as follows:

•  Support to voluntary repatriation;

•  Access to shelter and essential social services for refugees, returnees and host communities;

•  Improved and diversified livelihood opportunities and enhanced food security;

•  Social and environmental protection of refugees, returnees, as well as assistance and support to host communities; and

•  Capacity development of national authorities, associations, organizations and communities concerned with refugees, returnees and host communities.