In Afghanistan, UN refugee and relief chiefs call for urgent increase in international support

UNHCR's Filippo Grandi and OCHA's Mark Lowcock visit Kabul as the nation nears four decades of conflict and faces growing humanitarian needs.

Afghans on the streets of Tarakhil Dag, a village on the outskirts of Kabul that is home to people who have returned to Afghanistan after decades living as refugees in Pakistan as well as people displaced from their homes in the north and east of the country by violence and insecurity.  © UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

Afghanistan needs the support of the international community now more than ever to help millions of people caught up in its displacement crisis, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in Kabul today. Grandi was in Afghanistan for a two-day visit with the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, to highlight the urgent need for sustainable support for the humanitarian situation, and greater efforts to address the root causes and find solutions.


The scale of the crisis is huge, both in numbers and duration. Nearly 4.2 million people in Afghanistan are in acute need of humanitarian assistance, including 1.9 million internally displaced, and more than 60,000 refugees who returned home and need help to restart their lives. Outside the country, 2.6 million registered Afghan refugees are hosted by Pakistan and Iran, along with an even larger number of undocumented Afghans and others holding Afghan passports.

“Deepening violence and now drought is affecting hundreds of thousands of families across the country," said Lowcock. "Civilian casualties are at an all-time high, with 40,000 civilians having been maimed or killed in the past four years. Despite the challenging and often dangerous environment, brave humanitarians – who have also come under attack too frequently – have proven year after year that they can effectively deliver.” He also noted that access can often be severely limited due to security constraints.

A grim milestone approaches in 2019: the 40th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which triggered the large-scale displacement of Afghan people.

"Without a solution to displacement, there will be no lasting peace."

“Afghanistan is at a crossroads," said Grandi. "A combination of conflict, natural disasters and inadequate access to basic services and economic opportunities is causing continued waves of internal displacement. The country, now more than ever, needs the support of the international community, as it takes steps to pursue peace and stability, and to link humanitarian action to broader development efforts."

He added: "Without a solution to displacement, there will be no lasting peace."

Afghans need support to rebuild their country (Edith Champagne, producer / Alexandre St-Denis camera/editor)

In Kabul, Grandi and Lowcock met President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah as well as donors, development and humanitarian partners, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations. They welcomed Afghanistan’s commitment to a strengthened model for the return and reintegration of refugees and the internally displaced – a model that also involves development actors, fosters innovation and encourages private-sector involvement. They noted that the inclusion of refugee issues as part of a larger dialogue between Afghanistan and Pakistan was also a positive step. They also discussed preparations for the Geneva Conference on Afghanistan, to take place in Switzerland in November this year.

On the outskirts of the capital, Grandi and Lowcock sat down with elders of Tarakhil Dag, a village that is home to nearly 10,000 people. Most are Afghan refugees who returned from Pakistan two years ago, along with internally displaced people forced from their homes due to conflict.


“When I came back from Pakistan after thirty years, we faced enormous challenges,” a village elder said. “The Government had promised us plots of lands, but we have not received them until now. UNHCR built shelters and gave us money to buy land and roads are now paved. UNHCR has been with me and my family for all these years in Pakistan and now in Afghanistan. Now UNHCR is building a school which will help our girls and boys to get education and give them a future.”

Another village elder, Dinullah, who goes by his first name only, as do most Afghans, said: “We left our village in Nangarhar due to the fighting. When we arrived, we had no shelter and our children could not go to school.” Dinullah and his family expressed appreciation for the basic services that UNHCR and its partners provide in Tarakhil Dag, such as education for girls and boys, provision of water via solar-powered wells, and shelters for the most vulnerable families. “Our women get training to sew clothing that they can sell and make an income. I see my future in Tarakhil Dag; this is where I have settled. I have been able to build a business. In my village there is only insecurity and conflict.”

These UNHCR projects are part of our community-based protection measures to support the reintegration of returnees and internally displaced people by helping them find work, and provide help to people with specific needs, particularly women, children and people living with disabilities.

"I see my future in Tarakhil Dag… I have been able to build a business. In my village there is only insecurity and conflict."

Despite the difficult conditions, some 12,000 refugees have returned to Afghanistan this year under UNHCR’s voluntary repatriation programme, adding to the more than 5.2 million Afghan refugees who have been helped to return home since 2002. Recognizing the daunting challenges Afghanistan faces, Grandi and Lowcock commended the inclusion of displaced people and returnees in national programming and the addressing of land issues for returnees. They also welcomed investment in districts with high numbers of returnees, which will help ensure that reintegration is sustainable over the long-term, and that the root causes of displacement and humanitarian crises are addressed.

Currently, 4.2 million people in Afghanistan are in acute need of humanitarian assistance due to conflict, displacement and natural disasters, including ongoing drought. An additional 8.7 million people are in need of assistance caused by abject poverty, high unemployment and loss of livelihoods due to the effects of climate change.

The High Commissioner’s visit is part of a three-country tour. He was in Iran earlier this week. He then travelled together with the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator to Afghanistan and Pakistan, seeking increased international support to alleviate suffering in Afghanistan and to support the neighbouring counties hosting and seeking solutions for Afghan refugees.