Inclusive protection and assistance to empower and build resilience and self-reliance of people of concern, while easing pressure on host communities
UNHCR focused on protection-sensitive and inclusive policies across the region, responding swiftly when emergencies displaced over 1 million people in Myanmar and Afghanistan. UNHCR delivered life-saving protection and assistance to 5 million people affected by the Myanmar and Afghanistan situations – 3.4 million in the Afghanistan situation and 1.6 million in the Myanmar situation – and urged neighbouring countries to maintain open borders and strengthen access to asylum, including by implementing pledges made at the Global Refugee Forum. In Pakistan, UNHCR and the Government completed a data verification and biometric documentation exercise, facilitating programming for resilience and solutions for some 1.28 million Proof of Registration cardholders.
UNHCR scaled up psychosocial support for over 7,000 children across the region and worked to reduce barriers to their access to education, civil registration and other basic services. With new crises hampering prospects for voluntary repatriation, UNHCR sought greater inclusion in host communities and opportunities in third countries. The Afghan Situation Refugee Response Plan included in-situ populations, facilitating support for communities and public services that have generously hosted Afghans.
All countries in the region included people of concern in their national COVID-19 responses including vaccination programmes. Resettlement submissions across the region almost doubled to 4,900. Partnerships with development actors aimed to build a foundation for eventual sustainable return and reintegration. At least 791,000 Afghan IDPs returned home between August and December 2021 as the situation in the country stabilized, according to household-level rapid assessments conducted by UNHCR in 333 districts, in all 34 provinces. UNHCR also supported countries’ efforts to reduce statelessness, including through capacity-building and policy advocacy for universal birth registration, and individual legal assistance to help people of undetermined nationality. In Central Asia alone, over 46,000 cases were resolved in 2021.
Agility in the face of protection and socioeconomic risks amplified by COVID-19
In 2021, 17 operations in the region used cash transfers to support protection and solution strategies. Cash assistance nearly doubled to $47.3 million. 77% was disbursed as unrestricted grants to address basic needs and reduce protection risks, including support to winterization and reintegration programmes. Cash also supported shelter (13%) and livelihoods, health, and education. The 2021 increase primarily stemmed from UNHCR’s response to the Afghanistan situation and the $7.9 million targeted at easing the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Afghanistan, Central Asia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Thailand and elsewhere. Most operations will not be able to sustain their COVID-19 cash assistance in 2022 and financial support to some of the most vulnerable will return to pre-pandemic levels.
To overcome pandemic-related disruption to registration and documentation, which are essential for refugee inclusion and solutions, UNHCR implemented innovative approaches and conducted remote registration across the region, including online self-service portals and video conferencing. As a result, UNHCR registered over 86,000 individuals in 2021, more than double the number of individuals registered in 2020. 25% were registered through safe and secure remote modalities employed to ensure continuity of critical protection services during the pandemic.
Innovative solutions for different populations, based on their diverse profiles and needs, in both protracted situations and emergencies
The continued insecurity in Afghanistan and Myanmar – the places of origin of more than 95% of the region’s people of concern – limited opportunities for voluntary repatriation. Similarly, longstanding policies by many host countries served to restrict possibilities for local inclusion and local integration. In 2021, 4,900 individuals were submitted for resettlement consideration and 2,400 departed from the region. Efforts continued to create complementary pathways, by establishing new opportunities in Asia and working more closely with organizations focused on labour mobility and family reunification. Almost 1,000 individuals departed on complementary pathways from Asia in 2021, including protracted and sensitive cases arising from the Afghan and Myanmar emergencies. Voluntary repatriation programmes, as well as support to individual returns, resumed in a limited manner as some borders and flight options opened up following COVID-19 restrictions.
UNHCR continued to pursue solutions-focused advocacy and efforts for particular groups for whom specific opportunities were available. In Afghanistan, UNHCR supported returns by building resilient communities in line with the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees. The expansion in the number of priority areas of return and reintegration to 55 areas and the accompanying increase in programming in these areas helped improve access to services for 3 million people. Area-based support for health, education and livelihoods contributed to solutions for at least 791,000 IDPs who were able to return home in the last four months of 2021, according to rapid assessments conducted among 153,700 households in 333 districts, in all 34 provinces. This figure may continue to increase as household-level assessments are ongoing. Elsewhere, 181,000 IDPs returned to their areas of origin in the Philippines, mostly from short-term localized displacement in Mindanao, while 130,000 IDPs returned home in Myanmar.
Diversified partnerships for multi-stakeholder approaches, with a focus on operational synergies, joint strategy development, advocacy and resource mobilization
UNHCR expanded its engagement with development actors, seeking strategic partnerships and support for solutions. The Office secured large-scale development finance including multi-year funding from BMZ (2021-2023) for UNHCR in the Islamic Republics of Iran and Pakistan, and funding from the Korea International Cooperation Agency for a multi-year project (2022-2025) in Pakistan. Collaboration with UN agencies included a joint action plan with UN Women, implementation of the Blueprint with UNICEF, and joint efforts with UNDP, including in the core group of the Support Platform for the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees. The first regional UNHCR-NGO consultation was organized with the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network and the International Council of Voluntary Agencies. UNHCR engaged on inter-agency regional coordination structures (including the Regional Collaborative Platform and regional Inter-agency Standing Committee) and established inter-agency regional meetings on the Myanmar and Afghan regional situations. In response to the deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan, UNHCR led the development of the Refugee Preparedness and Response Plan for countries neighbouring Afghanistan, followed by an RRP 2022 in consultation with host governments and 40 partners. UNHCR continued its engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as part of the UN-ASEAN plan of action 2021-2025 on advocacy on Myanmar, and with the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on protection and capacity-building. This included workshops organized by UNHCR’s Regional Centre for Emergency Preparedness. Working with partners, UNHCR also continued to engage on ASEAN’s Regional Plan of Action on the Rights of the Child in the Context of Migration.
Harmonized and strengthened data collection and analyses to drive evidence-based protection and solutions strategies
In 2021, 32 joint needs assessments and several socioeconomic surveys spanning ten operations strengthened evidence-based and data-informed decision-making. In Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal and Thailand, comprehensive consultations with Rohingya refugees demonstrated that the majority wanted to return home, but that desire dissipated the longer they were in exile. While they waited to return, they hoped for education and livelihood opportunities. Harmonized Kobo forms — an open-source mobile data collection tool — were used in Afghanistan and Pakistan to strengthen border monitoring, while a standardized household emergency assessment tool was rolled out across Afghanistan to assess the needs of displaced people, returnees and host communities, and to facilitate situational analysis and identification of beneficiaries eligible for assistance. 17 post-distribution monitoring assessments in 15 operations allowed UNHCR to understand how its assistance was used and whether it met the needs of recipients. UNHCR’s proGres V4 registration and case management system was rolled out in India, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand to strengthen coherent regional data analysis and improve regional data reporting. Deployment of PRIMES proGres v4 in the region meant almost 2.8 million individuals were registered in progGres v4 across 16 countries by the end of 2021, up from 1.8 million across 12 countries in 2020. The total included 1.2 million individuals (5 years and above) who were biometrically registered, with slower growth due to remote registration.