ISLAMABAD - The head of the United Nations refugee agency estimates eight million Afghans do not live in their homes, fleeing deadly conflict, poverty, unemployment and a worsening drought in Afghanistan.
U.N. High Commissioner Filippo Grandi, who concluded a visit to the turmoil-hit country and neighboring Pakistan on Sunday, called on donors to urgently increase and sustain support for Afghanistan’s complex and rapidly evolving displacement crisis.
“We estimate, if you take all categories of Afghans, that there are nearly eight million Afghan people, that do not live in their homes, either as internally displaced or in different categories of people in neighboring countries and further beyond, including in Europe,” Grandi said.
Speaking at the state-run Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad (ISSI), the UNHCR chief painted a grim picture of the security situation in Afghanistan in the wake of repeated terrorist attacks in Kabul and elsewhere in the country.
“They [Afghans] are worried they are afraid they are getting frustrated even those with jobs, with purpose, are becoming extremely worried about the future, and security weighs heavily on this perception that they have of their own country,” Grandi observed.
Grandi described conditions of nearly three million Afghans in neighboring Iran, including around one million registered refugees, as not very encouraging.
“The preoccupation that we have is that of course Iran is entering a complicating phase from the political point of view, U.S. sanctions, political pressures. We are worried that this may erode the relative generosity that has been shown to Afghan refugees,” Grandi warned.
“In fact, we have seen many Afghans going back to Afghanistan, especially those more qualified, because the purchasing power of the Iranian currency is collapsing so rapidly.”
Pakistan hosts nearly three million registered and unregistered Afghans, one of the largest refugee populations.
Grandi said that in his meetings with refugee families in the Pakistani city of Peshawar he observed some of them are making difficult decisions to return, while others prefer to wait, citing insecurity in their homeland.
Authorities in Pakistan have lately stepped up calls for all Afghans to go back to their country, citing internal security problems and economic pressures on host communities.
Grandi said that new Prime Minister Imran Khan has assured him his government will not support forced repatriation of Afghans.
The UNHCR chief noted the Afghan government’s capacity to implement policies to resettle returnees continue to be “relatively week, or rather patchy” and he emphasized the need for host nations to ensure voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees.
Grandi lamented that ordinary Afghans have not yet seen dividends of an elected government in their country or from massive international assistance Afghanistan has received since 2001. He added that unless schools and clinics are built and social services are provided, it would be extremely difficult to encourage Afghans living in exile to come back to their country.