KABUL: Top UN officials have called on donors to urgently increase and sustain support for the humanitarian response, including measures to find durable solutions for millions of people caught up in Afghanistan’s complex and rapidly evolving displacement crisis.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi and the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock issued the call at the end of a two-day visit to Afghanistan.
“Deepening violence and now drought is affecting hundreds of thousands of families across the country. Civilian casualties are at an all-time high, with 40,000 civilians having been maimed or killed in the past four years,” Lowcock said in a statement from UNHCR.
Despite the challenging and often dangerous environment, brave humanitarians – who have also come under attack too frequently – have proven they could effectively deliver,” said Lowcock, while acknowledging that access can often be severely limited due to security constraints.
Grandi and Lowcock met President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and other senior government officials, as well as donors, development and humanitarian partners, UN agencies, NGOs and families affected by the conflict.
Grandi was quoted as saying: “Afghanistan is at a crossroads. A combination of conflict, natural disasters and inadequate access to basic services and economic opportunities was 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, he warned, there would be no lasting peace. Grandi also welcomed Afghanistan’s commitment to a strengthened model for the return and reintegration of refugees and the internally displaced. He noted that the inclusion of refugee issues as part of a larger dialogue between Afghanistan and Pakistan was also a positive step.
Grandi and Lowcock commended the inclusion of displaced persons and returnees in national programming, addressing land issues for returnees, investing in districts of high return and working together to ensure return and reintegration is sustainable over the longer-term.
As of early September, some 12,000 refugees have returned to Afghanistan under UNHCR’s voluntary repatriation programme this year, adding to the more than 5.2 million Afghan refugees who have been assisted to come back since 2002.
Still, 2.6 million refugees remain in Pakistan and Iran along with an even larger number of undocumented Afghans and others holding Afghan passports. Grandi visited Iran before arriving in Kabul and together with Lowcock will travel to Pakistan.
Their visit took place at a time when 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 facing abject poverty, unemployment and loss of livelihoods due to the effects of climate change are in need of assistance.
Grandi and Lowcock met internally displaced people and returnees at a community centre in Kabul, together with people receiving social services and livelihoods training.
These projects are part of community-based protection measures aimed at supporting the reintegration of returnees and IDPs and facilitating community development, including programmes that generate livelihoods opportunities, promote peaceful coexistence, and directly assist persons with specific needs, particularly women and children and persons living with disabilities.
Grandi stressed UNHCR’s continued commitment to the 2.6 million Afghan refugees remaining in countries of asylum in the region, including efforts to facilitate their voluntary return and sustainable reintegration in Afghanistan.
He also reiterated his agency’s intention to work with the government, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, led by Mr. Lowcock, and other partners to renew efforts to find durable solutions for the country’s estimated 1.9 million IDPs.
“Inclusiveness is critical in the Afghan context. Humanitarian action must meet everyone’s needs and priorities,” Lowcock stressed after meeting a group of physically disabled people, some of whom established small businesses through cash grants. “The most vulnerable groups, including people with disabilities, must not be forgotten – particularly in the midst of a humanitarian crisis.”
With Afghan displacement entering its fourth decade next year, the joint mission to Afghanistan seeks to reinforce timely and predictable international support toward the humanitarian situation and ongoing efforts to respond and seek solutions.