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UNHCR Global Appeal 1999 - Afghanistan


UNHCR Global Appeal 1999 - Afghanistan

1 December 1998

Basic Facts

What we do

Facilitate the voluntary repatriation of 105,000 refugees from Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran to Afghanistan by providing transportation assistance, repatriation grants and reintegration projects in areas of return; and monitor and ensure the protection of returnees.

Who we help

Some 200,000 returnees and displaced persons who have voluntarily returned to their villages and districts of origin since 1997, and the communities to which they return.

Our requirements

US$ 16,667,405

Our offices

Kabul (Office of the Chief of Mission for Kabul, based in Islamabad), Kandahar, Jalalabad, Herat, Mazar-I-Sharif, Kabul (field office), Bamiyan.

Our partners

Save the Children Fund (USA,) Danish Committee for Aid to Afghanistan (DACAAR), International Assistance Mission (IAM), Local Afghan NGOs as implementing partners for Quick Impact Projects.


Afghan refugees began fleeing to neighbouring countries in large numbers following the Soviet invasion of 1979. In 1990, the number of Afghan refugees peaked at more than six million, almost equally divided between Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran. As a result of twenty years of conflict, entire families have been killed or uprooted; homes, schools and clinics have been bombed; land, irrigation systems and roads have been destroyed; water is scarce and rarely safe; disease and poverty are widespread.

In spite of the continuous fighting, Afghan refugees have been returning to their places of origin since early 1989. In June 1998, the 4 millionth refugee returned to Afghanistan, joining 2.7 million returnees from Pakistan since 1988 and 1.3 million from the Islamic Republic of Iran. However, some 2.6 million refugees remain in exile, most of whom are in Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Afghan caseload remains UNHCR's largest single refugee caseload in the world for the 18th year in succession. The return of refugees in recent years has been regular, although gradually decreasing. In 1997, 87,000 persons returned (84,000 from Pakistan and 3,000 from the Islamic Republic of Iran), of whom 73,000 were directly assisted by UNHCR. In 1998, 79,000 persons had returned to Afghanistan as of 1 September. The figure includes 77,600 refugees (12,900 families) from Pakistan and 1,400 from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The greatest number of returnees continues to depart from refugee villages in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province for destinations in bordering provinces of Afghanistan. Most returnees are ethnic Pashtuns originating from rural districts in eastern and southern Afghanistan which have been under the control of the Taliban for several years and are relatively stable. During 1998, a smaller number returned from Baluchistan (Pakistan), largely because of the temporary suspension of United Nations activities in the Kandahar region between March and May. Few have returned to the north and west of Afghanistan, however, given the areas' remoteness and returnees' apprehension about renewed fighting. But since the Taliban now control most of northern Afghanistan, Pashtuns may begin returning to that region.


Through its work, UNHCR plans to: facilitate the voluntary repatriation of up to 105,000 Afghan refugees (100,000 from Pakistan and 5,000 from the Islamic Republic of Iran) to their areas of origin in Afghanistan; support the newly introduced group-repatriation scheme by implementing Quick Impact Projects (QIPs) in returnee communities. In 1999, these activities will be carried out in close cooperation with other United Nations and non-governmental agencies within the framework of the Common Programming for Afghanistan. The reintegration assistance is intended to remove obstacles to repatriation such as mines, destroyed homes and irrigation systems, or lack of economic and education opportunities; and monitor the conditions of return and the situation of returnees to ensure that the repatriation is voluntary and that returnees benefit from an adequate level of protection during the return and reintegration process. This is undertaken, with the cooperation of concerned authorities in the countries of asylum and origin, by establishing an international presence along routes of return and in areas of return and by conducting returnee- monitoring interviews on a large scale throughout Afghanistan. Particular emphasis is placed on the situation of returnees belonging ethnic or religious minorities and on issues concerning women, adolescents and children.


Return to Difficult Conditions

UNHCR will continue to facilitate voluntary repatriation to areas of relative security in Afghanistan so long as refugees express a desire for return and are informed about conditions in their home area and along the route of return. The great majority of those who have voluntarily gone back to Afghanistan during the past two years have returned to Taliban-controlled areas along the border with Pakistan and, to a lesser extent, with the Islamic Republic of Iran. For those returning in 1999, as well as for those who returned in previous years, it is extremely difficult to resume life in a devastated and greatly changed country. Most of the infrastructure for rural irrigation, urban sanitation, roads and communication has been destroyed in 18 years of conflict. An estimated ten million mines, as well as unexploded ordnance, litter the Afghan landscape and pose significant risks to life and property. Rich agricultural land continues to be sacrificed for poppy cultivation, leading to seasonal food deficits. A national education system is non-existent. Schools which do operate are wholly dependent on NGOs and international organizations, despite an increased demand for schools by refugees and returnees who have benefited from education programmes while in exile.

Organized Group Repatriation

In 1997, UNHCR adopted a targeted approach to assist returnees through organized group repatriation. This programme runs parallel to the individual voluntary repatriation assistance grant in support of spontaneous return. The new scheme involves working with groups of refugees residing in camps in Pakistan who originate from relatively safe locations in Afghanistan and who wish to return but are unable to do so for a range of physical and socio-economic reasons. In consultation with the refugees, UNHCR assesses the obstacles in their home districts and identifies solutions for their repatriation and reintegration. The refugees themselves are an integral part of the process, both in identifying their needs and, most important, in implementing the solution. UNHCR also helps set up refugee committees, encouraging female participation, to consider and prepare for group return. The reintegration package of assistance requires close cooperation among UNHCR and other United Nations agencies and NGOs.

Plans for 1999

In 1999, UNHCR plans to assist in the voluntary repatriation of 100,000 persons from Pakistan and 5,000 from the Islamic Republic of Iran. Returnees are given a cash grant, a three-month food supply from the World Food Programme (WFP) and assistance with transportation. Returnees from Pakistan receive RS 5,000 (US$ 110) and 300 kilogrammes of wheat per family; those from Iran receive US$ 40 and 50 kilogrammes of wheat per person. Each family also receives plastic sheeting to be used for shelter immediately upon return. Returnees participate in mine-awareness training sessions before their repatriation to Afghanistan. QIPs addressing basic reintegration needs of the returning refugees will be implemented in close coordination with United Nations agencies, international and local NGOs.

Protection and Solutions

Decades of armed conflict have left little respect for human rights in Afghanistan. In most parts of the country, the Taliban hold effective military control over the population. This dominance is maintained through violence, threat and a disregard of universal norms of law, through extremely restrictive discriminatory rules and severe punishments are imposed. The conflict is becoming increasingly characterized by ethnic and religious divisions which threaten prospects for a peaceful settlement or improvement in the human rights situation. In these circumstances, UNHCR's major concern is the protection of the human rights of members of religious and ethnic minorities and women. Achieving gender equality in access to assistance and other services, such as education and income, is a primary goal of the Organization. Through its presence and monitoring, UNHCR ensures that protection-related issues affecting returnees are addressed if and as they arise. In interviews with returnees, improved security and relative peace are frequently cited as important influences on the decision to return. Some 77 per cent of returnees interviewed in the eastern and southern regions of Afghanistan feel safe and secure after return. Most problems are reported by returnees of ethnic and religious minorities in the western and central regions.

Women and Children

Prospects for women, children and other vulnerable groups living in or returning to Afghanistan remain grim. Under-five mortality rates average 257 for every 1,000 live births. Only 17 per cent of rural populations has access to health care; while, in urban areas, health care is more available, but prohibitively expensive. The results of UNHCR's returnee monitoring indicate that only 54 per cent of returnee families have access to health services. UNHCR continues to cooperate closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) and international non-governmental organizations in the health sector, to provide basic health services in areas with large numbers of returnees.

The adult literacy rate in Afghanistan is only 28.9 per cent; the female literacy rate is about 12.7 per cent. Education is prohibited to girls in most areas of the country; and surveys among returnees show that 76 per cent of primary school-age children of returning families do not attend schools. UNHCR's efforts to meet an increasing demand for education among returnees and other communities have been partially successful. UNHCR provides textbooks and other materials, constructs or rehabilitates school buildings, trains principals and teachers, and produces and provides resource books developed by UNESCO for teachers and principals. Taliban authorities have allowed support of home-based schools for girls in Kandahar parallel to improved formal education for boys. UNHCR will continue to support the education sector and replicate positive examples in other areas with the aim of encouraging the authorities to turn home-based schools into regular establishments for girls' education.

Traditional Afghan society, especially within the Pashtun tribe, is arguably the most restrictive in the world with respect to women's rights. In most parts of the country, the education of girls and the employment of women outside the health sector is banned or severely restricted. In most areas, women may not appear in public unless cloaked in the "Burqa", a tent like cloth which covers all physical features, including the face. Because women must usually appear in public with a male relative "mahram", their freedom of movement is severely restricted. Punishment for violation of these edicts can be fatal. Female returnees will be subject to these restrictive traditions and the consequent effects on their health, security and personal freedoms. Many may now be accustomed to the more liberal lifestyles of their countries of asylum, where they may have been born or remained for 18 years. UNHCR will conduct a number of skills-training and income-generation activities for women in Afghanistan. These include a programme for winter food subsidies in Kabul, where an estimated 100,000 war widows live, and Group Guaranteed Lending Schemes, which target women in Kabul and the north.


The international assistance community in Afghanistan needs a shared vision and a common approach to tackle the country's complex humanitarian and political issues, such as violation of human rights, gender equality and the search for a peaceful and negotiated end of the conflict.

A concept for an assistance strategy was approved at the Afghan Support Group (ASG) meeting in New York on 3 December 1997. The strategy includes the establishment of a common programme, the adoption of a principle-centered approach, and common independent monitoring and evaluation mechanisms used by all United Nations agencies, funds and programmes as well as by donors and international NGOs active in Afghanistan.

During the course of March and April 1998, a document entitled "Making a Reality of Principled Common Programming" was prepared by the United Nations agencies and NGO community working in Afghanistan. The document proposed ways in which all assistance actors could work together to establish overall policies, priorities and programmes and improve the impact of assistance on the intended beneficiaries and on the broader effort at peace building. At another meeting in May 1998, the Afghanistan Support Group approved the Common Programme and endorsed the establishment of an Afghan Programme Board to oversee the implementation of both the assistance strategy and the Common Programme. UNHCR's 1999 returnee reintegration programmes will be implemented under the proposed Common Programme and assistance framework.

Budget US$

The budget includes costs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran and at Headquarters.

ActivitiesSpecial Programmes
Domestic Needs/Household Support1,916,839
Water supply669,166
Shelter/Other Infrastructures1,401,713
Crop Production250,000
legal assistance/protection1,912,408
Agency Operational Support554,537
Programme Delivery Costs*5,396,222
Administrative Support costs2,133,180

* Includes costs for protection, monitoring and coordination.