Afghanistan situation

A young and joyful girl dressed in red runs down the stairs of a settlement for displaced people.
A child from a displaced family at a settlement for displaced people in Loya Wala north of Kandahar, Afghanistan.   © UNHCR/Oxygen Film Studio (AFG)

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23 January 2023
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2022
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2022
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Global Appeal 2023

2023 population planning figures 

  • Refugees and asylum-seekers in Afghanistan (from Pakistan): 42,400  

  • Registered Afghan refugees and asylum-seekers: 2.4 million, 41% women and 40% children* 

  • IDPs: 2.2 million**, 49% women and girls, 58% children  

  • Refugee and IDP returnees***: 740,000  

*Demographics based on 2021 annual statistical report. 
**Conflict-induced IDPs.
***A further 5 million Afghans of various status remain in the Islamic Republics of Iran and Pakistan. 

  

2023 situation overview  

The end of the large-scale conflict in Afghanistan in 2021 led to an improvement in the overall security situation and a marked reduction in civilian casualties, enabling humanitarian access to all provinces, including many areas which had been inaccessible for decades. At the same time, many challenges remain, particularly for women and girls, including widespread food insecurity, soaring inflation and high economic instability exacerbated by sanctions and loss of aid, limited livelihoods, and more frequent and severe climate shocks. UNHCR has recorded over 1 million IDPs who have already voluntarily returned since the end of the conflict and an estimated 60,000 refugee returnees and 680,000 IDP returnees are anticipated in 2023. UNHCR will continue to deliver on its scaled-up response, focusing on the provision of cash assistance, core relief items and shelter while continuing to support community- and area-based investments in Priority Areas of Return and Reintegration (PARRs).  

While the situation inside Afghanistan remains fluid, the inter-agency Refugee Response Plan (RRP) will continue in 2023 in the Islamic Republics of Iran and Pakistan and in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. UNHCR will maintain an inclusive and collaborative approach to leading and coordinating the plan, which grew from 11 partners in 2021 to 40 in 2022. Building on the capacities and expertise of affected populations to act as first responders, the plan will respond to the needs of Afghans and host communities in line with the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees. Efforts will also continue to strengthen essential facilities and services in PARRs to support durable solutions and create conducive conditions for the sustainable reintegration of returnees. The Islamic Republics of Iran and Pakistan have hosted Afghan refugees for over four decades and continue to generously host more than 2 million registered refugees from previous waves of displacement, and a further 5 million Afghans of varying statuses. UNHCR will support host governments in their efforts to include Afghans in the provision of national services such as health and education while supporting refugee-hosting communities. UNHCR will also look for ways in which social safety nets can improve Afghans’ resilience and advance durable solutions. 

Global Report 2021

2021 Year-end population figures

  • Refugees and asylum seekers: 2.3 million, 25% women and 48% children
  • IDPs: 3.5 million, 21% women and 58% children
  • New IDPs in 2021 alone: 777,000, 57% children and 21% women 
  • IDP returns: 791,000 

2021 Situation overview

The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan worsened significantly in 2021. Prior to the Taliban’s takeover of power in August, UNAMA had reported the highest number of conflict-related casualties on record and a striking decline in the security and human rights situation in large parts of the country. The displacement of 777,000 people (57% children and 21% women) brought the total number of people displaced by conflict inside Afghanistan to 3.5 million as of December 2021. The conflict diminished and humanitarian access to many parts of the country improved after the Taliban takeover and the announcement of an interim government, but there was deepening poverty, exacerbated by drought, COVID-19 and food insecurity. With ongoing restrictions and systematic exclusion, women and children faced heightened protection risks including intimate partner violence and child marriage. Since August 2021, women have largely been excluded from the workforce both as a result of the economic crisis and restrictions imposed by the de facto authorities. In the public sector, exceptions were made in some cases for women working in health care and primary schools, as well as for a very small number of civil servants. Limitations on freedom of movement negatively impacted other aspects of women’s lives, including access to health services. The closure of many women’s protection shelters left women at risk. Justice systems established to deal with cases of gender-based violence were largely non-functional.

In the last quarter of 2021, UNHCR significantly expanded operations countrywide and rapidly scaled up its staffing and field presence in response to dramatically increasing needs, while also assisting IDPs who began returning to their areas of origin as soon as the conflict calmed. Psychosocial support-focused activities were introduced based on the findings of the “Whole of Afghanistan assessment 2021” conducted by REACH in the context of the 2021 Humanitarian Programme Cycle, which showed a high level of needs for mental health and psychosocial support (PSS) services (66% of men and 61% of women in assessed households reported at least one behavioural change in 2021). In response, UNHCR scaled up its PSS response and assisted 14,000 people with psychosocial counselling either in person or remotely, of which 65% were female, while 47,000 women and girls received dignity kits. UNHCR expanded its area-based approach to 55 Priority Areas of Return and Reintegration (PARRs) to meet middle- to long-term development objectives in the areas of health, education and livelihoods. UNHCR constructed, rehabilitated or expanded 37 schools across the country, supporting 44,000 primary, middle and high school students. 10 health centres and clinics were also constructed in the country, benefiting 364,000 individuals, while 16,000 people received livelihoods support. Overall, 791,000 Afghan IDPs returned home between August and December 2021 as the situation in the country stabilized, according to rapid assessments conducted among 153,700 households in 333 districts, in all 34 provinces. 

In Central Asia and the Islamic Republics of Iran and Pakistan, together hosting 2.2 million registered Afghan refugees, UNHCR and partners supported preparedness activities via the Regional Refugee Response Plan. Some 158,000 newly arrived refugees in these countries approached UNHCR in 2021, although the true figure of those in need of international protection is likely to be much higher. At the invitation of the Government of Uzbekistan, UNHCR established a humanitarian and logistics hub in the town of Termez, bordering Afghanistan, and made it available to other humanitarian agencies. Serving the entire region, the hub enhanced pre-positioning and rapid delivery of core relief items to Afghanistan. 

In line with the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees, UNHCR continued to support inclusive policies by channeling investment into national public service delivery systems, especially in health and education. The Government of Pakistan successfully implemented the Documentation Renewal and Information Verification Exercise (DRIVE) with the support of UNHCR, verifying the data of Proof of Registration (PoR) cardholders in Pakistan and issuing new PoR smartcards to all eligible refugees. Some 1.28 million refugees were verified during the exercise (including previous PoR Card Holders and new birth registrations) but there were also 238,000 people in a refugee-like situation in Pakistan (including unregistered members of registered families and newly arrived Afghans). Across the Afghanistan Situation in 2021, UNHCR provided $35 million in cash assistance to 836,000 people of concern and assisted 64,300 households with core relief items and 6,600 households with emergency shelter.