UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner urges continued international support for Afghan returnees and internally displaced or risk further population outflows
KABUL 17 April 2016: On his first visit to the country since his appointment as Assistant High Commissioner for Operations in 2015, Mr. George Okoth-Obbo emerged from a meeting with recent refugee returnees at UNHCR's Kabul Encashment Centre with a simple message. "Returning refugees continue to demonstrate incredible resilience and faith in their futures in Afghanistan. We cannot disappoint them. Now more than ever, the people of Afghanistan need the support and solidarity of the international community," he stated.
The Kabul Encashment Centre, which is run jointly by UNHCR and the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, received and assisted 16 families yesterday. The number of refugees returning under the UNHCR-assisted repatriation operation is at a historic low, likely reflecting growing concerns among refugee populations in neighbouring countries over the deteriorating security and economic conditions within Afghanistan. The overall return figure as of 15 April stands at 2,200, 74% from Pakistan and 25% from Iran. Following his visit to the Encashment Centre, Mr. Okoth-Obbo also thanked neighbouring host communities for continuing to provide support to those who are not yet prepared to return to Afghanistan.
As part of a wider regional mission, Mr. Okoth-Obbo's visit comes at a crucial moment for the future of Afghanistan, in advance of the NATO summit in Warsaw in June and the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan in October, at which new development assistance pledges will be made. Mr. Okoth-Obbo recently visited Pakistan and is scheduled to travel to Iran after a visit to an IDP settlement in Herat. Noting that some 2.4 million registered refugees remained in neighbouring host countries, the Assistant High Commissioner stressed the need for sub-regional solutions to one of the world's longest refugee crises and urged the Afghan Government and the international community to redouble efforts to promote sustainable livelihoods, affordable housing, and improved access to health and education.
Mr. Okoth-Obbo also drew attention to the rising numbers of internally displaced people as a result of growing insecurity and called on the Government to ensure that they could find adequate protection and their needs are fully integrated into national development plans and initiatives. Over 80,000 Afghans have so far been displaced in 2016, continuing the trend in 2015, in which some 380,000 people were forcibly displaced from their homes as a result of fighting. Hundreds of thousands of longstanding IDPs, who often lack access to basic services and security of tenure, remain in makeshift, informal settlements throughout the country.
"We fully support President Ghani's goal of eradicating internal displacement from the Afghan vocabulary. This can only be done through a concerted partnership between the Government and international community to ensure that the more than one million IDPs can enjoy basic rights and build better futures for their children wherever they may choose to settle," said Mr. Okoth-Obbo. In the absence of a more cohesive and realistic approach to sustainable integration for both IDPs and returnees, he highlighted the risk that increasing numbers of Afghans could seek protection and better lives elsewhere, alluding to the dramatic population movements to Europe over the past year.
Mr. Okoth-Obbo, accompanied by Ms. Daisy Dell, UNHCR Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, began his two-day visit on 16 April. In Kabul he met with Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, Minister for Refugees and Repatriation Sayed Hossein Alemi Balkhi and other key Ministers. He also held consultations with the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Mr. Nicholas Haysom, Deputy SRSG Tadamichi Yamamoto, and UN and NGO humanitarian and development partners, as well as donors and embassies to discuss long-term solutions to the regional Afghan forced displacement situation.
Mr. Okoth-Obbo thanked the Government and people of Afghanistan for generously hosting a large population of refugees for the first time in its history.
UNHCR's Representative in Afghanistan, Ms. Maya Ameratunga, welcomed the visit of the Assistant High Commissioner and his constructive meetings with senior government officials to find durable solutions for the 2.4 million Afghan refugees remaining in neighbouring host countries.
"The Assistant High Commissioner's visit is a tangible demonstration of UNHCR's longstanding and continuing commitment to find solutions to one of the world's most protracted and complex refugee and forced displacement contexts," said Ms. Ameratunga, stressing that "The international community cannot afford to turn its back on Afghanistan after investing and achieving so much. As the international spotlight focuses on Afghans on the move to Europe, it is important to remember that the largest and most vulnerable displaced populations in need are right here in their home country and in the regional neighbourhood. Millions of refugees and IDPs still have great hopes for their future in Afghanistan, and so do we."
Mohammad Nader Farhad in Kabul +93 791990018, [email protected]