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UNHCR seeks US$18 million to plug funding gap for Afghan refugees in Iran

Briefing Notes, 1 June 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 1 June 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is calling for US$18 million to meet an anticipated shortfall this year in its requested funding for Afghan refugees in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

UNHCR, whose programmes for Afghan refugees are in partnership with the Iranian government, has assessed comprehensive budget needs at US$36.8 million. However, to date only around a fifth of that sum has been received.

Voluntary repatriation of Afghans from Iran has slowed considerably in recent years in the face of poor security and economic conditions in Afghanistan. Only 6,000 people returned in 2009 and 3,600 in 2008. More than a million registered Afghans meanwhile remain in Iran, with 97 percent living in urban or semi-urban settings and creating strain on health, education and other local infrastructure.

Iran, which is facing its own economic difficulties amid the global downturn, has hosted two generations of Afghan refugees but has received little international support. Refugees have benefited from basic health and education services and usually have been able to earn a living albeit only informally until work permits were issued to registered refugees last year.

Given the recent slower pace of returns, UNHCR has broadened its programme in Iran to better support services pending repatriation. However, at present we have funds to implement only 22 percent of identified needs across education, health, and livelihood support, as well as boosting water systems, latrines and other infrastructure in refugee settlements and in urban settings with high refugee concentrations. The figure of US$18 million that we're requesting is to meet the anticipated gap in funding.

Many refugees in Iran are feeling the effects of rising inflation and struggle to pay food and medical costs. UNHCR believes the situation will worsen when Iran's new five year national economic policy, expected to begin in 2010, takes effect. The new policy will see the removal of subsidies for electricity, water, other utilities and basic commodities like food. While the government will provide a safety net of cash grants for Iranians, this will not be extended to refugees. Vulnerable refugees in particular will therefore need extra support.

In addition to the one million registered Afghan refugees in Iran, there are some 48,000 refugees from Iraq. Since 2002, UNHCR has helped more than 860,000 refugees repatriate to Afghanistan. In addition, a million Afghans have returned home spontaneously since that time.

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Afghan Refugees in Iran

At a recent conference in Geneva, the international community endorsed a "solutions strategy" for millions of Afghan refugees and those returning to Afghanistan after years in exile. The plan, drawn up between Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and UNHCR, aims to support repatriation, sustainable reintegration and assistance to host countries.

It will benefit refugee returnees to Afghanistan as well as 3 million Afghan refugees, including 1 million in Iran and 1.7 million in Pakistan.

Many of the refugees in Iran have been living there for more than three decades. This photo set captures the lives of some of these exiles, who wait in hope of a lasting solution to their situation.

Afghan Refugees in Iran

More focus needed on reintegration of former Afghan refugees

Many of the more than 5.5 million Afghan refugees who have returned home since 2002 are still struggling to survive. Lack of land, job opportunities and other services, combined with poor security in some places, has caused many returnees to head to urban areas. While cities offer the promise of informal day labour, the rising cost of rental accommodation and basic commodities relegate many returnees to life in one of the informal settlements which have mushroomed across Kabul in recent years. Some families are living under canvases and the constant threat of eviction, while others have gained a toe-hold in abandoned buildings around the city.

UNHCR gives humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable, and is currently rallying support from donors and humanitarian and development agencies to redouble efforts to help returning refugees reintegrate in Afghanistan.

More focus needed on reintegration of former Afghan refugees

Angelina Jolie promotes reintegration of Afghan returnees

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie in March 2011 returned to Afghanistan. On her second trip to the country, the acclaimed actress called for greater focus to be put on the reintegration of former refugees. More than 5.5 million refugees have returned since 2002, mainly from Pakistan and Iran, and now make up 20 per cent of the population. UNHCR is concerned that too many of these refugees continue to live without jobs, shelter and other basic needs.

Jolie caught up with several families she had met in 2008, still living in a dilapidated warehouse in Kabul. She was moved to see the families struggling to survive in the cold damp building. Children spend their days washing cars for money instead of attending school; the old and sick told Jolie of their pain to be such a burden on the young.

The actress also visited returned refugees living on the Alice Ghan and Barikab land allocation schemes north of Kabul. The returnees told her they were grateful for their houses but needed help with livelihoods. Jolie also visited Qala Gadu village, where she is funding the construction of a girls' primary school.

Angelina Jolie promotes reintegration of Afghan returnees

Pakistan: Returning HomePlay video

Pakistan: Returning Home

Since the beginning of November, UNHCR has been offering an enhanced package to every registered refugee in Pakistan choosing to go home to Afghanistan.
Afghanistan HomecomingPlay video

Afghanistan Homecoming

Since 2002, UNHCR has helped nearly 4 million Afghan refugees to return home from Pakistan. Recently, Ahmed Shafiq made the journey with his family after 15 years as a refugee. This is his story.
Afghanistan: Mariam's StoryPlay video

Afghanistan: Mariam's Story

Mariam was a refugee in Iran for six years. The widow and mother returned in 2002 and has been internally displaced ever since. Her situation is very uncertain.