For nearly four decades millions of Afghans have sought protection from conflict and persecution and found temporary solutions in neighboring countries, notably Pakistan and Iran, and today some 2.6 million Afghan refugees are displaced globally. At the same time, Afghanistan has seen substantial internal displacement resulting from conflict and natural disasters. In both 2016 and 2017, more than 600,000 new internally displaced persons (IDPs) were recorded, affecting almost every province of the country, and in 2018 more than 550,000 Afghans were displaced by conflict and drought, adding to the already complex humanitarian situation in which UNHCR estimates as many as 2 million Afghans to be internally displaced today. Notwithstanding positive developments in the peace process in recent months, displacement is expected to continue for some time considering the complex security and political environment in Afghanistan.
UNHCR has been working to support the Government of Afghanistan and the Afghan people since the Geneva Accords in 1988, and in that time UNHCR has assisted an estimated 14.5 million Afghans1 through a range of programmes aimed at addressing protection needs, providing access to water, sanitation and shelter, facilitating access to education, skills training, livelihoods and self-reliance, promoting peaceful coexistence, and ensuring sustainable return and reintegration of displaced populations.
Despite a fragile security situation in many parts of Afghanistan, along with a range of socio-economic and political challenges, since 2002 more than 5.2 million Afghan refugees have returned to the country with UNHCR’s assistance, which has included repatriation cash grants and other support to help returnees meet their immediate humanitarian needs.
Over the years UNHCR has supported Afghan returnees, IDPs and members of host communities with quality shelter, and since 2002 nearly 227,000 Afghan families (some 1.4 million persons) have been provided new homes through projects implemented by UNHCR and its partners. 2 UNHCR has also supported Afghan communities through a number of infrastructure development programmes across the country, constructing schools, healthcare centres and roads, and developing water and sanitation services, irrigation projects, and renewable energy initiatives. 1 This estimate is based on UNHCR’s programme and financial records.
Within the regional framework of the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees, UNHCR continues to facilitate a protection and solutions dialogue between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, and as part of this process the Government of Afghanistan has committed to renewed efforts to seek sustainable reintegration of displaced Afghans and to promote national development. To support these commitments, the Government has formally endorsed the Global Compact on Refugees and the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, which together support multi-stakeholder efforts to address the root causes of displacement by easing pressure on host countries and host communities, enhancing self-reliance, expanding access to thirdcountry solutions for refugees, and supporting conditions in countries of origin to facilitate return in safety and dignity.
The protection environment in Afghanistan remains unstable, and in 2018 the country witnessed the highest number of conflictrelated causalities on record, while government control of territory reached its lowest level. This has led to an increasing number of vulnerable families employing negative coping mechanisms to survive, such as early or forced marriage, child labour, using children as collateral for loans, begging, sale of assets, and reduced food intake. A high percentage of the Afghan population suffers from extreme poverty, and their vulnerability is often exacerbated by insecurity and lack of access to basic services.
Many of the communities that experience displacement and return are in need of significant investment to ensure they can meet the needs of returnees and IDPs. With millions of Afghans in need, the expansion of UNHCR’s programme in Afghanistan– in partnership with other UN agencies, humanitarian and development actors, and the Government of Afghanistan – is urgently required to develop the potential to foster longer-term and sustainable reintegration among an increasingly mobile Afghan society.
Voluntary repatriation remains the preferred solution for Afghan refugees, and while the situation in Afghanistan is not presently conducive to support large-scale returns UNHCR is working closely with the Government of Afghanistan and our partners – including through cross-border initiatives with Pakistan and Iran– to implement a range of programmes aimed at improving the conditions in Afghanistan to support sustainable returns while ensuring Afghan refugees are able to make informed decisions about going home.