The number of Afghans displaced within their own country has jumped 34 percent so far this year, and nearly 14 million of the total of 17.3 million people needing protection or assistance are from the Kabul-led government’s ranks, according to latest data.
Despite it being overshadowed by tensions on the Korean peninsula, Afghanistan is home to one of the world’s largest refugee populations. After a bloody civil war in the 1990s, more than 5 million Afghans were forced to flee to neighbouring countries, many of them to Iran and Pakistan.
Since 2001, over 3 million have returned home while 1.6 million have settled in Pakistan, while nearly 1.1 million have been registered as refugees in Iran.
“Those countries should act in a joint action to help us to stop the flow of refugees,” Akhtar Mohammad Afzal, the Afghan High Commissioner for Refugees, told DW. “We need a major response from all neighbouring countries and donors.”
Afghanistan’s external aid budget is supposed to top $3 billion by 2021, but more than $2 billion has been spent since 2011.
“There are a lot of people in Iran and Pakistan, and refugees need help, but we are also looking to protect Afghans from the situation at home.”
Afzal, who took over the post in April, traveled to his Pakistani counterpart last week to discuss border security and border management issues.
“Our population is already more than a million, we have about 18,000 refugees every month in Pakistan, and then there is the population that comes from Afghanistan,” Mohammad Reza Taqparader, a UN official, told DW.
“The figures we have from the Pakistani authorities [are] 16,000 to 17,000 Afghan refugees coming on a monthly basis,” he added.
He and the Afghan commissioner for refugees expressed hopes that next week’s trilateral meeting between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran would resolve the border situation.
Taqparader admitted that border problems were “always going to be there.” But he believed bilateral efforts had improved.
“The initial problem was high inflation. We’ve managed to resolve most of those issues and we hope for the highest level of progress in the Pakistani-Iranian meeting next week.”
Nearly 12,000 aid workers
Funding problems are nothing new for humanitarian agencies in Afghanistan, where a longstanding, overburdened UN-supervised system is now stretched beyond its means, diplomats and aid workers say.
“What we need to do is expand our capacities,” said AFP correspondent Irfan Siddiqui. “And we don’t have enough expertise and personnel to address the greatest needs, so we need increased funding. We need to increase our capacity to be able to provide shelter, water, vaccines, the basic needs of Afghanistan’s population.”
The $4.3 billion international aid to Afghanistan — the fifth-largest US-backed aid program in the world — has long been funding an Afghan social safety net that relies on federal transfers and foreign aid. But as life expects the worst in an already fragile country, there is talk of mulling a cash transfer system to improve development.
“In the early 1990s, about 15 percent of Afghan was living below the poverty line, and that fell sharply in the early 2000s to around five percent,” Siddiqui said. “Now we are hovering around 12 percent, and there are only a few NGOs left, and they are operating a very specific program that says ‘do not build.'”
According to preliminary figures provided by the UNHCR, the refugee programs sponsored by the organization will cost $3.1 billion in 2018. The country is set to miss its aim of being self-sufficient in education and health by 2021.