The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) called for targeted investments inside Afghanistan and in refugee-hosting Iran and Pakistan, warning that inaction could lead to further population flows, continued suffering and instability, and a deepening regional socio-economic crisis in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A renewed focus on international solidarity is needed to ensure another decade of displacement and despair is averted and hope restored for millions of Afghans,” said UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch.
According to the latest figures, some 2.7 million Afghan refugees live outside the country, while another 2.6 million are internally displaced. In 2020 itself, around 100,000 Afghan have been internally displaced by conflict and natural disasters.
Since 2012, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan have pursued a regional approach – the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees – to build an environment conducive to voluntary repatriation and sustainable reintegration in Afghanistan, while also easing pressure on host communities.
Since 2002, nearly 6 million Afghan refugees have returned home – including 5.3 million with UNHCR’s support.
However, the pace of return has not been matched by investments in development, the UNHCR said with voluntary returns to Afghanistan in 2019 among the lowest recorded in years.
The UN agency reports that the majority of refugees in Iran and Pakistan “cite several main obstacles to their return and sustainable reintegration in Afghanistan.
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These include a lack of access to livelihoods, land, shelter and basic services, as well as continued insecurity in the country.”
“Iran and Pakistan have been hosting the vast majority of Afghan refugees for the past 40 years, shouldering a disproportionate burden of providing them with sanctuary and care,” Baloch said. They still host nearly 90% of Afghan refugees globally.
However, the agency warns, this has put a strain on the resources and infrastructure in both countries.
“With the deteriorating socio-economic conditions in the region due to COVID-19, this long-standing generosity is now in danger of being exhausted.”
On July 6, the UNHCR is meeting representatives from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan virtually “to seek practical support and galvanize action under the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees.”
In Afghanistan, gaps exist in the provision of education. UNHCR is seeking “strategic investments to expand education opportunities, skills training, youth empowerment and developing public infrastructure, including schools.”
Displaced and host communities are also in need of shelter, cash and targeted interventions in the health, water and sanitation sectors, as well as investments in livelihoods.
The initiative seeks investments from donor countries, bilateral and multilateral development actors, international financial institutions, UN agencies, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and civil society.