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AFGHANISTAN: Refugee & Returnee Chapter Response Strategy 2017

1.    Strategic Direction of Refugee and Returnee Chapter

The main focus of the Refugee and Returnee Chapter Response Strategy for 2017 is to coordinate the efforts of the operational actors delivering humanitarian assistance to address the immediate needs, and reinforce effective coping mechanisms going forward for refugees from Pakistan and Afghan refugees and returnees from Pakistan and Iran.  The needs of refugees and returnees are most acute immediately after arrival, but also continue to evolve over time, as savings are exhausted and livelihood/income generating opportunities are limited. Interventions focus on promoting self-sufficiency. 2017 will see a particular emphasis on refugee and returnee reintegration into host communities. Priority interventions will be in the areas of protection (including child protection), food, shelter, health, education, nutrition and WASH.

The majority of the Afghan caseload returning from Pakistan (both registered refugees and undocumented Afghans) are second and third generation born in Pakistan and therefore have limited ties with their habitual communities in Afghanistan. The loss of socio-economic networks results in a lack of protection and employment opportunities that are often based on kinship and reciprocity. High levels of pressure imposed by authorities and local host communities in the second half of 2016 resulted in an increasing rate of return among registered refugee returnees, undocumented Afghan returnees as well as a higher rate of deportation. In this context, returning families are not able to make necessary arrangements prior to their return which makes them more vulnerable upon arrival during the initial phases of return. Interventions will include immediate humanitarian assistance to address the challenges faced upon arrival and during the initial stages of return and establish a foundation for sustainable reintegration.  At the same time, response efforts will aim to expand referral mechanisms and provide assistance to address specific vulnerabilities, particularly in the areas of protection, food, shelter, education and health.  

2.    Context

Return and displacement is a well-established phenomenon in Afghanistan primarily driven by insecurity and conflict with as much as 25% of the total population having experienced displacement at one point in their lives. This means that approximately six million Afghans have returned home from abroad over the past twelve years with over one million refugee and undocumented returns from Pakistan and Iran in 2016 alone, placing acute pressures on host communities, national governance structures, and the returnees themselves. For these reasons, there are questions and concerns around the extent to which Afghans have been able to reintegrate back into society; as well as the absorption capacity of host communities, often faced with high levels of return.
Millions of Afghans continue to live in severe poverty and struggle to meet their basic needs (Humanitarian Response Plan 2017 targets 5.7 million Afghans for assistance with acute needs) resulting in chronic malnutrition, severe food insecurity and one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates globally. More than 70 per cent of the population live on less than two dollars a day. 
Afghanistan remains one of the most dangerous, and violent countries in the world. In 2016, conflict-induced displacement affected over 650,000 people scattered across all 34 provinces – with approximately 20% located in non-government controlled areas. 56% of the displaced are children that face particular risk of abuse, and exploitation, as well as interrupted school attendance and the harmful effects of child labour. Multiple forms of gender based violence (GBV), particularly early and forced marriage, domestic, psychological, and sexual abuse are reported, affecting individuals in host and displaced communities alike. 

As of 2017, there are an estimated 1.1 million undocumented and 1.3 million registered refugee Afghans in Pakistan. Iran is also hosting as many as 900,000 Afghan refugees and 1.4 million undocumented Afghans, some of whom migrate to the country for employment or are in transit to Turkey and Europe. There are now more than 800,000 Afghans residing in European Union Member States. While a number of these Afghans will receive international protection, several thousand will return to Afghanistan every year and there have now been 5 charter flights since December 2016 from EU Member States returning over 100 Afghans. 

3.    Background of the R&R Chapter

The cluster system was established in Afghanistan in 2008. There are currently six clusters- Emergency Shelter and Non-Food Items (ES-NFI), Food Security and Agriculture (FSAC), Health, Nutrition, Protection and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in addition to the Refugee and Returnee (R&R) Chapter (formerly the Multi-sector Cluster until 2014) co-chaired by UNHCR and IOM.

As with the Clusters, the R&R Chapter meets every two weeks at the national level and is coordinated by UNHCR and IOM. Similarly there is a sub-national coordination structure, led by UNHCR, at the provincial level in Khost where the R&R chapter members meets every two weeks and an additional body is under development in Jalalabad dealing with the issues of return, response and reintegration. Meetings are attended by Chapter members (UN agencies and NGOs) and observers including donors and aim to provide a reporting mechanism for coordinators and members on multi-thematic response activities dealing specifically with Afghan returnees and Pakistani refugees. Members strategize and coordinate humanitarian activities and share information on challenges and bottlenecks faced at the operational level.  The Chapter is a strategic advisory body that informs high level strategy and the overarching response across the Cluster system. Chapter coordinators also exist as technical experts and are well integrated into overall response bodies advising both the government, UN agencies and donor partners with frequent participation in other coordination forums and ad hoc refugee and returnee response meetings.

4.    Government/UN Coordination structures

Since October 2016, the Government of Afghanistan led by the Offices of the President, the CEO and the Ministry for Refugees and Repatriation (MoRR) have initiated several different variations of a response coordination structure with the involvement of core government ministries/agencies and the main operational UN agencies- UNHCR, IOM and OCHA. Presently, the primary decision making body is the Displacement and Return Executive Committee (DiREC), under which sit three working groups- policy, technical and finance- to deliberate on core issues of concern and provide information to the DiREC. Meeting are held regularly and a policy document in addition to a full scale implementation Action Plan which addresses 6 key response areas including land allocation, documentation, access to services and longer term integration/reintegration efforts has been endorsed by DiREC and the National Cabinet as of mid-March 2017. A costing exercise is now ongoing within the Finance Working Group. A housing model, beneficiary selection criteria for land allocations and revision of Presidential Decree 104 are also underway.

Operation(s)/ Webspace(s): 
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
International Organization for Migration
Original Publication Date: 
12 Mar 2017
Document type: 
Coordination hub(s): 
National Level Coordination