The operational context was characterized by a further deteriorating security situation, significant delays of the intra-Afghan peace negotiations, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate-induced natural hazards and the limited capacity to absorb returning Afghans and those displaced within the country (often leading to secondary displacements, onward movements and increased reliance on negative coping mechanisms).
The deteriorating security situation was a key challenge as it continued hampering humanitarian access and intervention in remote and hard-to-reach areas, while an estimated 23% of the population, including many internally displaced persons (IDPs), are living in the hard-to-reach areas controlled by anti-Government elements (AGEs). The year 2020 saw a stark increase in targeted killings, with more than 1,200 civilians either killed or injured. As a result of ongoing conflicts and insecurity, some 330,000 individuals were newly internally displaced in 2020. As a result of ongoing conflicts and insecurity, some 330,000 individuals were newly internally displaced in 2020. Afghanistan had nearly 2.9 million IDPs at the end of 2020.
Against this backdrop, the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the already fragile socioeconomic situation, with border closures affecting the supply of goods and import of aid by UNHCR and other agencies. Countrywide, COVID-19 resulted in a contraction in the economy, an increased percentage of households either losing income or employment, a significant spike in food prices, and an increase in the percentage of households in a crisis- or emergency-level of food insecurity. Refugees, IDPs, returnees and members of host communities were amongst the most affected by the pandemic. Moreover, there were more reports of indebtedness and incidents of child labour and forced/early marriage as the pandemic left families economically vulnerable. Women and children were exposed to a higher risk of sexual exploitation and abuse due to the deteriorated socioeconomic conditions.
The COVID-19 movement restrictions coupled with a worsening security and economic situation across Afghanistan and uncertainty around the peace talks resulted in a decrease in voluntary repatriation in 2020.
Lack of Government capacity to conduct registration and screening of returnees and deportees upon arrival in Afghanistan has led to difficulties in identifying protection needs, obtaining data and tracking trends and drivers of cross-border migration, which are critical to understanding cross-border movements and preparing for returns.
While Afghanistan is signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and refugees and asylum-seekers are able, in general, to enjoy freedom of movement and protection from refoulement, they are not fully incorporated in national systems and face challenges in accessing livelihoods and basic services. People of concern also reported being denied medical services or facing stigmatization from landlords and other community members due to being a foreign national.
UNHCR was unable to conduct the planned verification exercise of refugees due to lockdown measures as well as technical issues related to the use of biometric equipment.