Despite the fragile security situation and the significant socioeconomic and political challenges, Afghanistan remains the largest voluntary repatriation operation in UNHCR’s history, with the Office having assisted some 5.3 million Afghan refugees to return since 2002. However, despite returns, millions of Afghans remain outside of Afghanistan. UNHCR anticipates that the factors prompting displacement and migration will continue in 2021, including armed clashes and conflict, extreme poverty and under-development, as well as recurring natural disasters and climate change. At the same time, the ongoing peace negotiations may pave the way for further voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons. Returning refugees could be a force for growth and development, as peace is restored.
The 2020 Afghanistan Conference and its outcomes, notably the Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework II (2021-2025) and the Afghanistan Partnership Framework, reaffirmed the urgent need for lasting solutions to forced displacement and committed to launch the first-ever standalone national priority program on reintegration. This program will set a foundation for strengthening essential facilities and services in areas of return, displacement, and origin.
In 2021, UNHCR supports the Government in efforts to enable voluntary return and sustainable reintegration in Priority Areas of Return and Reintegration (PARRs), while fostering social cohesion and peacebuilding, by channeling multi-sectoral multi-stakeholder humanitarian-development-peace investments into these areas. Key focus will be on promoting inclusion of returnees into relevant development plans; and strengthening partnerships with private sector, particularly Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, UN agencies, and development actors through the ‘Delivers As One’ approach focused on collective outcomes, impact, and sustainability towards sustainable reintegration. The regional Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR) and its support platform will be key in galvanizing support of diverse actors.
UNHCR will continue to support the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring the continuity of protection and assistance for populations of concern. The second wave of COVID-19 may have additional health and socioeconomic impacts and exacerbate the vulnerabilities of the population, including returnees, further impairing their ability to meet their basic needs and increasing the risks of resorting to harmful coping mechanisms.
In 2021, UNHCR in Afghanistan will focus on:
- Advancing its multi-year protection and solutions strategy: i) effectively responding to protection risks of people of concern; ii) empowering communities to mitigate protection risks and strengthening communities’ resilience and peaceful coexistence; iii) engaging with Government, partners and diverse actors for sustainable solutions. This fully aligns with the efforts of the Government to implement the Global Compact on Refugees and the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, including its commitments at the first Global Refugee Forum.
- Facilitating protection and solutions dialogue between the Islamic Republics of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan through Tripartite and Quadripartite platforms, within the regional framework of the SSAR.
- Balancing the need to secure solutions to protracted displacement with humanitarian preparedness and response.
- Supporting the Government in efforts to enable voluntary return and sustainable reintegration of refugees and internally displaced persons, including by strengthening essential services and facilities in priority areas of return and reintegration (PARRs) through humanitarian-development-peace investments and inclusive partnerships with diverse actors (donors, development actors, UN agencies, private sector and the civil society).
- Ensuring that the Centrality of Protection is at the centre of humanitarian assistance and promoting access to adequate housing, land and property through the Protection and Emergency Shelter and Non-food Items Clusters.
- Promoting the inclusion of IDPs, refugees, and returnees into Afghanistan’s national development plans and programmes, through advocacy, coordination and evidence-based programming.
- Supporting the inter-agency and Government response to internal displacement, including by delivering assistance, collating disaggregated data and facilitating solutions for protracted IDPs, in coordination with relevant partners.
- Strengthening evidence-based programming to systematically address protection risks and immediate to medium-term needs of populations of concern, while fostering linkages with development partners for long-term development and sustainable reintegration.