Afghan Refugee Situation
It is more than forty years since the first Afghan refugees left their country, in what has become one of the largest and longest displacement crises in recent history. Today, the Islamic Republics of Iran and Pakistan continue to host the majority of Afghan refugees globally. They provide over 2 million registered Afghan refugees with access to their national health and education services, as well as other support. Since the start of 2021, according to government estimates, at least 1.6 million Afghans have arrived in neighboring host countries. This is despite borders being tightly managed, with many Afghans making their way informally through unofficial border crossing points.
Over many years, the international community has continued to engage with the refugee response and has joined the new efforts to find solutions for Afghan refugees through recent initiatives stemming from the Global Compact on Refugees in 2018.
It is worth noting, however, that a structured dialogue on solutions for Afghans goes back some years. In 2012, Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, with the support of UNHCR, developed the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees to Support Voluntary Repatriation, Sustainable Reintegration and Assistance to Host Countries (SSAR). The SSAR strategy has served as an enabling multilateral vehicle for consensus-building, strengthening existing partnerships and engaging new actors. More than 60 government agencies, humanitarian and development actors, UN agencies and NGOs, have been engaged in its implementation to date.
The SSAR strategy, importantly, acknowledges that refugee protection and solutions are a collective responsibility of the international community and require a commitment to address root causes of displacement and more equitable responsibility-sharing with host countries, particularly in support of their inclusive policies and resilience-building measures that benefit both refugees and host communities through investments in national and local systems.
A Support Platform for the SSAR strategy was then created in 2019 to further underpin collective global efforts to build on a solutions approach. Based on the globally agreed need for solidarity and responsibility-sharing towards refugees, its creation stems out of provisions made for such types of platforms in the Global Compact on Refugees, which gained a solid UN General Assembly endorsement in 2018.
The new SSAR Support Platform is led by Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, with UNHCR acting as a secretariat. It provides a mechanism to enable the three countries and the international community to work together to enhance coordination and cooperation on solutions for Afghan refugees. Additionally important is the fact that a group of States, financial institutions, the European Union and UNDP have also joined together to support the work on solutions for Afghan refugees as part of the Support Platform. This grouping is known as the SSAR Core Group. It was initially chaired by the European Union (2021-2023).
Since the launch of the Support Platform in 2019, much in the region has changed, which has an impact on solutions. Today, Afghanistan is experiencing a humanitarian emergency of enormous proportions. Multiple factors are affecting efforts to address this crisis, including recent bans on Afghan women from working in the humanitarian response, as well as in other walks of life. Additionally, climate change is impacting Afghanistan, food insecurity, and a devasted economy. Some 3.4 million people remain displaced in Afghanistan due to conflict in recent years. The resilience of people in Afghanistan is stretched, with internally displaced people among the most vulnerable.
The United Nations and non-governmental organizations have launched plans for 2023 that aim to deliver vital humanitarian relief to 23.7 million people in Afghanistan and support 7.9 million displaced Afghans and local communities in five neighbouring countries. The needs increased since 2022.
The Plan for responding to humanitarian needs inside Afghanistan requires $4. billion. This will cover emergency needs including protection for the most vulnerable and life-saving support in shelter, food security and health care.
In synergy with the SSAR Support Platform, UNHCR is also leading interagency coordination efforts in neighboring countries for Afghans s and host communities across Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.
The Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRP) launched for 2023 requires $613 million in funding for 40 organizations working in protection, health and nutrition, food security, shelter and non-food items, water and sanitation, livelihoods and resilience, education and logistics and telecoms.
The RRP 2023 reaffirms a regional multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral approach, by enhancing community-based investments in line with the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) and working towards the solutions outlined in the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR). RRP 2023 is an inclusive and participatory planning process including UN agencies and NGO partners as part of the development of the plan, in consultation with governments.
Comprehensive portfolio of projects
Following the launch of the SSAR Support Platform in December 2019 at the first Global Refugee Forum, a comprehensive portfolio of projects was presented to key donors and other stakeholders at the High-Level Meeting convened on 6 July 2020 with the aim to:
- Channel additional investments into the national public service delivery systems in the Islamic Republics of Iran and Pakistan (education, healthcare, social protection, vocational skills development) to support inclusive policies of the Governments benefitting both host communities and refugees.
- Enhance capacity for voluntary return and sustainable reintegration in Afghanistan by leveraging humanitarian and development partnerships in the Priority Areas of Return and Reintegration (PARRs).
- Create conditions conducive to voluntary repatriation by i) supporting land distribution to returnees in Afghanistan, ii) investing in resilience and portable skills of refugees in host countries to enhance potential for reintegration, and iii) tailoring assistance to enable initial anchoring upon return.
The portfolio, which outlines areas where the international community can concretely support solutions, can be found on a dedicated website for the SSAR Support Platform at https://ssar-platform.org/