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Afghanistan: What Now for Refugees?
Afghanistan: What Now for Refugees?
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Any Hope Left For Diplomacy Over Ukraine?
Any Hope Left For Diplomacy Over Ukraine?
A group of Afghan women, former refugees newly returned from Iran, gather at a UNHCR returnee camp in Sari Pul, Afghanistan, 30 August 2009. UN PHOTO/Eric Kanalstein
Report 175 / Asia

Afghanistan: What Now for Refugees?

As international efforts focus on the worsening insurgency in Afghanistan, the issues of refugee return and the mobility of Afghans in their country and around the region have been overshadowed.

 

Executive Summary

As international efforts focus on the worsening insurgency in Afghanistan, the issues of refugee return and the mobility of Afghans in their country and around the region have been overshadowed. Meeting the needs of returnees and addressing population movements remain an essential part of finding a solution to the conflict. These issues must be better integrated into policymaking. They play a role in many of the sources of discontent that undermine the legitimacy of the government in Kabul – from land disputes to rising crime. Migration has a positive side as well since those living abroad sustain much of the economy, but a comprehensive approach to displacement and migration is needed, including better coordination among Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, if the benefits are to start outweighing the risks.

With the rural areas increasingly insecure, many returning Afghans have migrated to towns and cities, causing rapid urbanisation that is contributing to rising poverty, unemployment and criminality. Kabul’s population has tripled in just seven years. Since young, displaced and unemployed men are particularly vulnerable to recruitment to the insurgency, the needs of a fast-growing poor and largely marginalised population must be urgently addressed. Moreover, as Afghans attempt to resettle in their home provinces or migrate to the country’s more secure and economically productive zones, land disputes risk sparking deep-rooted tribal, ethnic or sectarian violence.

Afghan mobility should not be perceived solely as a source of conflict and instability. Internal and regional mobility has enabled families to diversify their sources of income. Remittances are essential to the economy, and households that are able to provide for themselves are a blessing for a state struggling to ensure security and provide basic services. The contribution of returning refugees to reconstruction and development through skills acquired in exile is already significant, and should be facilitated further through national reconstruction and development programs.

The country’s institutions are ill-equipped to meet the needs of repatriating families, overcome obstacles to resettlement, and tackle the continued refugee presence in neighbouring countries. The government’s inability to provide for and protect its returning citizens by ensuring nationwide basic services and the rule of law has led to an increasing questioning of its legitimacy. These shortcomings compel many Afghans to rely on informal networks and other parallel structures based on patron-client relations that undercut the establishment of a durable state-citizen relationship.

While it struggles to ensure sustainable returns, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) faces mounting pressure from Iran and Pakistan, the main refugee hosting states, to maintain high repatriation figures. However, UNHCR cannot resolve the refugee problem on its own. Broader efforts to address Afghan displacement are urgently needed that extend beyond a purely refugee/IDP (internally displaced persons) framework. Responsibility of meeting returnees’ needs must also be delegated to a range of UN agencies and Afghan government actors and ministries.

The prolonged refugee presence and the persistence of unchecked cross-border movements have increased Pakistan’s and Iran’s leverage over their neighbour. Moreover, with migrants and terrorist networks often using the same transport routes, making it difficult to distinguish insurgents from migrants, Tehran and Islamabad are inclined to seal their borders and pressure the millions of remaining Afghan refugees to return home. As Iran and Pakistan toughen their stance, the threat of mass deportations strains Kabul’s relations with both countries. If carried out, such deportations would further destabilise a fragile state. 

Cross-border mobility will continue regardless of any attempts to curtail it. Efforts to improve security within Afghanistan and in the region must therefore integrate internal and cross-border population movements. The governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran must explore legal and political channels to liberalise and enable regional mobility, which would facilitate administrative control of cross-border movement and reinforce their capacity to control their populations and their territories. Such measures will also strengthen UNHCR’s ability to provide for the most vulnerable segment of the Afghan population in exile. For such approaches to succeed, however, they must be strongly endorsed by the international community and made an integral part of peace building in the region. 

Kabul/Islamabad/Brussels, 31 August 2009

Any Hope Left For Diplomacy Over Ukraine?

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood hosts a two-part episode on the Ukraine war, talking to Crisis Group’s Europe/Central Asia director Olga Oliker about the fighting and Western policy and then to UN director, Richard Gowan, about dynamics at the UN and how the world has reacted.

Fighting rages on in Ukraine. Despite massive advantages in fire and manpower, the Russian military is facing much fiercer Ukrainian resistance than Moscow appears to have anticipated and has stepped up airstrikes on Ukrainian cities. Diplomatic efforts still continue, with the two sides meeting to talk about humanitarian access. But casualties and the levels of destruction continue to rise. Western countries have responded with punishing sanctions, further NATO troop build-ups along the alliance's eastern flank and continued supplies of arms to Ukraine. Meanwhile, a UN General Assembly meeting on 2 March saw a large majority of states vote to condemn Russia’s aggression. Whether Moscow’s diplomatic and economic isolation will have any impact on the Kremlin’s calculations remains to be seen. 

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood discusses again the war in Ukraine and its fallout, in a two-part episode with Crisis Group experts, Olga Oliker, Europe & Central Asia director and Richard Gowan, UN director. Olga talks about the latest fighting dynamics, what the coming weeks could bring, the Western response so far and whether diplomatic efforts stand any hope of getting to a ceasefire or end to the fighting. Richard Gowan then looks at the overwhelming condemnation in the UN General Assembly of Russia’s aggression and reactions to the crisis from around the world. He asks what role the UN might play in Ukraine and examines the war’s potential impact on an already deeply divided Security Council and its conflict management more broadly. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more of Crisis Group’s analysis, visit our Ukraine regional page, and make sure to read our recent commentary, ‘The Ukraine War: A Global Crisis?’ and our statement, ‘War in Europe: Responding to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine’.

Contributors

Executive Vice President
atwoodr
Program Director, Europe and Central Asia
OlyaOliker
UN Director
RichardGowan1