UNHCR has seen some promising developments in relation to refugee returns and reintegration, improved education and healthcare services, infrastructure development, and increased respect for human rights. However, serious and widespread protection risks remain, largely attributable to the ongoing conflict, and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reclassified the country in 2017 as an active conflict, as opposed to post conflict, emphasizing the need to reinforce peace building efforts. Armed elements have changed tactics, increased the conflict in geographical scope, and caused a steadily rising number of civilian casualties since 2012, with record levels reported in the first half of 2018.
Despite a fragile security situation in many parts of Afghanistan, as well as a range of socio-economic and political challenges, over six million Afghans have returned to the country since 2002, including over 5.2 million registered refugees assisted by UNHCR with cash and other support to meet their immediate humanitarian needs. In 2016, over 600,000 Afghans returned from the Islamic Republics of Pakistan and Iran, including more than 370,000 refugees, marking a renewed surge in repatriation despite adverse conditions for return. In 2017, refugee returns of Afghan reduced to nearly 60,000 individuals, and in 2018 the number of refugees returning dropped to less than 16,000.
For nearly four decades, millions of Afghans have sought protection and found temporary solutions in neighbouring countries, notably Pakistan and Iran; however, a range of factors have influenced the decision of many to return.
Pakistan continues to host almost 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees holding Proof of Registration (POR) cards, while Iran hosts close to 1 million Amayesh1 card holders.
In recent years, Afghanistan has seen substantial internal displacement due to conflict and natural disaster. In 2017, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported over 600,000 new conflictinduced internally displaced persons (IDP), affecting almost every province of the country. In 2018, more than 200,000 Afghans have been displaced by drought, mostly in the western part of the country, adding to the already complex humanitarian situation. The trends in 2019 and beyond will depend on the evolving and highly unpredictable security situation, as well as the impending presidential election.
Afghanistan continues to host an estimated 76,000 Pakistani refugees who fled North Waziristan Agency (NWA) in 2014 due to military operations in their area. UNHCR has registered some 41,000 refugees in Khost province and verified over 35,000 refugees in Paktika province, where access remains a challenge on account of poor security.
Refugees benefit from the generous hospitality of the Afghanistan government authorities and host communities, due in part to close tribal affiliations and a shared understanding of the trauma of forced displacement. UNHCR provides targeted assistance and support to the most vulnerable individuals, and leads a coordinated response with humanitarian partners in Khost and Paktika to provide essential services to support the resilience of refugees and host communities while working with the Government of Afghanistan toward durable solutions. The situation in NWA presents several obstacles for a safe and dignified return, including restricted freedom of movement, lack of community infrastructure, shelter, services and threats arising from unexploded ordnance. A number of refugee families have returned, though many of those remaining have indicated that they will not return in the foreseeable future.
In the absence of a national asylum framework to implement the Government’s international obligations as a State party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, UNHCR registers asylumseekers and conducts Refugee Status Determination (RSD) in line with the UNHCR Executive Committee’s 2016 strategic paper on RSD, and accordingly UNHCR registered some 500 refugees and asylum-seekers of various nationalities under its mandate in Kabul and other urban centers. A National Refugee Law was drafted by the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation (MoRR) and UNHCR in 2013, but despite various efforts the law is yet to be formally adopted; renewed discussions are taking place in 2018 and 2019 and it is hoped the law will be enacted in the coming months.
On the basis of a comprehensive protection risk analysis, and in line with a whole of community approach, UNHCR has developed a partnership strategy identifying key thematic areas that will generate protection outcomes and foster solutions. Four key thematic areas for these initiatives are: (a) access to adequate housing; (b) access to education; (c) support to peace building; and (d) support to self-reliance and sustainable reintegration through regional initiatives. In its partnership approach, UNHCR also increases outreach with persons of concern through a comprehensive area based approach. Engagement with development actors is actioned through a rights based approach as aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and supported by the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, to which Afghanistan announced its formal commitment in July 2018. Together hese efforts reinforce the centrality of protection and enhance protection advocacy, and UNHCR will continue to strengthen partnership to expand humanitarian access. Community empowerment will continue to be supported and fostered through increased participation, communication with communities, feedback and complaints mechanisms, and enhanced transparency.