Operation: Opération: Afghanistan



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Key Figures

2020 year-end results
3.4 million refugees, returnees, IDPs and members of the host community benefited from UNHCR protection and assistance
2.1 million million individuals benefited through activities aimed at preventing and mitigating effects of COVID-19 pandemic including provision of non-food items, hand washing stations, hygiene kits, personal protective equipment and awareness-raising activities
830,000 returnees, IDPs, refugees and members of the host community benefitted from one form of humanitarian assistance in 20 priority areas of return and reintegration
2021 planning figures
3.1 million refugees, Afghan refugee returnees, IDPs and members of the host community will benefit from community-based projects and newly constructed educational, health and public infrastructure facilities in 40 Priority Areas of Return and Reintegration
1 million refugees, returnees, IDPs and members of the host community will be reached through COVID-19 awareness raising campaign
200,000 refugees, returnees, IDPs and members of the host community will be reached through Community-based Protection Monitoring and Border Monitoring to identify protection incidents and risks
100,000 returnees, IDPs and members of the host community will benefit from core relief items
60,000 returnees will be supported with voluntary repatriation cash grants 
3,100 refugees and asylum-seekers will benefit from cash assistance to meet their basic needs

People of Concern Personnes relevant de la compétence du HCR

Decrease in
2020 3,043,668
2019 3,081,364
2018 2,759,010


[["Refugees",72278],["Asylum-seekers",167],["IDPs",2886317],["Returned refugees",2311],["Others of concern",82595]]
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2020 {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"budget":[259.233864759,137.62688892399999,125.83413416,121.70568010000001,123.20575754,142.03188247],"expenditure":[197.82190746,70.00669812999999,62.05985309999999,60.63418638,64.61222207,null]} {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"p1":[187.89448891,79.923683844,35.933201600000004,29.176983649999997,23.87382739,22.10213634],"p2":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p3":[42.006523619,39.774421090000004,60.243961299999995,71.18420028,72.46759683,74.18874851999999],"p4":[29.33285223,17.92878399,29.656971260000002,21.344496170000003,26.86433332,45.74099761]} {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"p1":[174.62465414,42.60149276,16.78422529,11.994052589999999,7.58865347,null],"p2":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p3":[12.48364936,10.39492624,23.78516525,30.24308225,43.35551795000001,null],"p4":[10.71360396,17.01027913,21.490462559999997,18.39705154,13.66805065,null]}
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  • 2014
  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017
  • 2018
  • 2019
  • 2020
  • 2021

Operational context

  • The situation in Afghanistan was marked by the adverse effects of COVID-19, deteriorating security situation, climate-induced natural hazards and inconclusive peace negotiations. COVID-19 shut down the economy, closed the borders, affected supply of goods and import of aid, increased the number of households that lost income or employment and found themselves in crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity.
  • Despite fragile security situation and socioeconomic challenges, Afghanistan remained the largest voluntary repatriation operation in the history of UNHCR with over 5.27 million Afghan refugees repatriated since 2002.
  • Although refugees and asylum-seekers were not fully incorporated in national systems and faced challenges in meeting basic needs, in general, they were able to enjoy the freedom of movement and were protected from refoulement.

Population trends

  • By the end of 2020, Afghanistan hosted 72,279 refugees and 172 asylum-seekers, mainly from Pakistan. Majority of them were living in two provinces: Khost and Paktika. In addition, 386 persons sought refuge in urban areas of Herat, Kabul, Kandahar and Nimroz.
  • During 2020, UNHCR Afghanistan provided support to 2,147 Afghan refugees voluntarily returned from seven countries of asylum through a facilitated return process: 1,092 from Pakistan, 939 from Iran and 116 from other countries of asylum. The return trend in 2020 decreased by 71% compared to 2019 when 8,079 Afghans returned, mainly due to COVID-19 compounded by worsening security and economic situations.
  • Some 333,000 individuals were newly internally displaced due to armed conflict, totaling to nearly 2.9 million persons displaced internally. 

Key achievements

  • The Government and UNHCR identified 20 additional priority areas of return and reintegration (PARRs), bringing the total number of PARRs to 40, expanding area-based conflict-sensitive programming to enable return and reintegration, bolster the coping mechanisms of returnees, IDPs and local population and help build communities that can withstand multiple shocks.
  • Over 129,000 individuals received cash assistance through different sectoral support programs and COVID-19 related response.
  • Around 61,370 individuals were reached through community-based protection monitoring including 30,713 females, to inform UNHCR’s programming and response.
  • The operation continued rolling out the Cash for Shelter programme, which gave the ownership of the construction process to beneficiaries; 201 households benefited from the Cash for Shelter program in 2020.
  • UNHCR strengthened its partnership with Government institutions with a focus on support for local authorities. In collaboration with the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, returnees and IDPs have become integral part of the Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework (2021-2025) through inclusion in 10 of the 15 National Priority Programmes.

Unmet needs

  • While UNHCR commenced border monitoring to assess the impact of COVID-19 on cross-border movements, due to the lack of funds, UNHCR was unable to monitor the movement of 155,417 people and some 970,000 vulnerable individuals were not assisted with COVID-19 related sanitation and awareness-raising activities.
  • Despite continued efforts to provide necessary reintegration support in the PARRs, lack of livelihood opportunities and access to basic services, particularly land, shelter, education and health remained a key challenge for return and reintegration. Due to lack of funds, 280,000 individuals did not receive improved access to education, health and community infrastructure, 2,800 IDPs did not receive support to construct their own shelter and 2,800 individuals did not receive livelihood support.

Use of flexible funding (unearmarked or softly earmarked funding)

  • UNHCR operation in Afghanistan benefitted from USD 6.2 million flexible funding in 2020 to implement some of the critical programmes. For example, UNHCR undertook community-based protection monitoring to collect and analyze data and trends: (a) to inform programming and response and (b) to support advocacy on issues such as access to education, health care, land and civil documentation. The data was also used to inform interventions in the PARRs and to provide assistance to IDPs, returnees and members of the host community. Due to lack of earmarked funds allocated to the community-based protection monitoring program, UNHCR had to use flexible funding to cover the financial gap. With the use of flexible funding, in 2020, UNHCR was able to assess the situation of 61,370 individuals including 41,550 IDPs, 17,415 members of the host community, and 1,936 returned refugees.

Working environment

After 40 years of conflict and displacement, the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan will likely remain at the same level over the course of 2020, with continuing insecurity, natural hazards and limited capacity to absorb returning Afghan refugees and those displaced within the country.
UNHCR’s ability to facilitate voluntary repatriation and sustainable reintegration in Afghanistan will largely depend on the evolving situation, including the outcomes of the 2019 presidential elections, the peace talks with Taliban, potential drawdown of the US and NATO forces, and the internal dialogue and reconciliation process in the country.

The “Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees” (SSAR) will remain the key framework for the Afghan situation, and despite challenges, the Government of Afghanistan will endeavor to implement the Displacement and Return Executive Committee (DiREC) policy framework and Action Plan. Afghanistan will also continue to roll-out the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) model, building upon the SSAR and embracing its fundamental objectives
While the number of returns in 2020 may increase or decrease depending on the protection environment in Afghanistan and in the region, UNHCR’s planning assumptions are based on the expected returns of some 60,000 refugees to Afghanistan. Internal displacement, due to complex political and security developments, along with of the risk of natural disasters, is expected to continue in 2020.

Key priorities

Aligned with the Government of Afghanistan’s national priorities, UNHCR aims to deliver the following three strategic objectives:
  • Effectively respond to protection risks of people of concern, specifically focusing on:  distribution of a voluntary repatriation cash grant of USD 200 to each Afghan refugee returnee, to respond to their needs and protection risks in the initial phases of return and reintegration; advocacy and policy guidance to the Government to ensure the national legal framework is in line with international standards; implementation of protection activities including protection monitoring, legal assistance, people with specific needs case management, and government capacity building; basic needs assistance to the most vulnerable and emergency response through emergency shelter and non-food items distribution, applying a whole-of-community/society approach.
  • Engage with the Government and communities to improve living conditions in areas of return and high displacement. Through a whole-of-community/society approach, focus will be placed on education, skills building, livelihood, health care and innovative energy support in 15 priority areas of return and reintegration (PARRs).
  • Act as a catalyst in facilitating and supporting a comprehensive and people-centered response and ensure synergies with a broad range of stakeholders to strengthen protection space, the humanitarian-development-peace nexus and enhance information management and information sharing to guide evidence-based programming along with systematic monitoring and evaluation.
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