Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Afghanistan: From pillar to post - the plight of Afghans abroad

Photo: Mohammad Popal/IRIN. A 15-year-old Afghan boy takes a nap at a transit centre after being deported from Iran

Source: IRIN

KABUL, 27 February 2012 (IRIN) - The government of Afghanistan and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) are seeking endorsement of a new strategy which aims to provide sustainable solutions to the largest and most protracted refugee crisis in the world.

Over the last 30 years of war in Afghanistan at least 10 million people fled. Many have since returned but millions of Afghans remain outside their country, including about 2.7 million registered as refugees in Iran and Pakistan, and an estimated 2.4-3.4 million others in the two countries “illegally”.

Even where conflict has subsided in their home country, many Afghans have chosen not to return because of a lack of services and development. The Afghan government admits it does not have the capacity to re-integrate many returning refugees.

Over the years, Pakistan and Iran have used these refugees as a “whipping boy” for their tense relations with the Afghan government, and “these people are caught in between” - used as a pawn to pressure Kabul and Washington, said Candace Rondeaux, senior analyst with the International Crisis Group in Afghanistan.

In a sign of a new willingness, last year, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and UNHCR started unprecedented quadripartite talks, the last of which wrapped up in Dubai in January.

The result is a regional, multi-year strategy that was approved by the Afghan cabinet on 27 February. The so-called “Solutions Strategy”, which will be presented to the international community at a stakeholders’ conference in Switzerland in May, aims to improve conditions in communities of origin in Afghanistan to encourage returns while supporting communities which host Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan.

UNHCR insists the event is not a pledging conference, but rather an invitation for stakeholders to endorse the new approach, which focuses on directing development projects already funded to areas of high returns.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres recently told Reuters the strategy would require US$1.5 billion in funds.

But the strategy faces more than funding challenges. While the quadripartite talks indicate an acceptance at the policy level that alternative solutions need to be found, dynamics in Iran and Pakistan at the operational level sometimes tell another story.

Little progress has been made on more progressive steps like naturalization of vulnerable refugees or legal migration mechanisms. “Host countries don’t like the word `integrated’,” as one aid worker put it.

IRIN takes an in-depth look at the realities on the ground that are likely to test the success of this strategy, while at the same time, making it all the more necessary.