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Afghanistan Refugee Crisis Explained

map of Tigray region

After more than four decades of displacement, Afghan refugees constitute one of the largest protracted refugee situations in the world. There are nearly 6 million Afghans who have been forcibly displaced from their homes. Of those, 3.5 million are displaced within Afghanistan; 2.6 million are Afghan refugees living in other countries. The remainder are people of concern, including those who have returned to Afghanistan and are being assisted by UNHCR.

Here's What You Need to Know:

1. Why have people from Afghanistan been forced to flee?

2. Where are Afghan refugees fleeing to?

3. How long are most Afghan refugees displaced for?

4. What are some of the greatest challenges displaced people from Afghanistan face today?

5. What is UNHCR doing to help newly displaced Afghans and Afghan refugees who wish to return home?

6. Are there resettled Afghan refugees in the United States?

Why have people from Afghanistan been forced to flee?

Afghans have suffered more than 40 years of conflict, natural disasters, chronic poverty, food insecurity and most recently the COVID-19 pandemic. Violence in Afghanistan is worsening in intensity and spreading in reach – causing even more human suffering and displacement. Their resilience and the resilience of their host communities is being stretched to the absolute limit.

Today, nearly 6 million Afghans have been driven out of their homes and their country by conflict, violence and poverty.

young afghan refugee

Where are Afghan refugees fleeing to?

The majority of Afghans never leave Afghanistan and remain internally displaced within the country (IDPs). In addition to the 600,000 displaced in 2021, there were already 3 million internally displaced Afghans at the end of 2020.

Many others are forced across borders and become refugees or are resettled in new countries. Afghan refugees are the third-largest displaced population in the world — following Syrian refugees and displaced Venezuelans. The vast majority of refugees from Afghanistan are living in Pakistan and Iran, which continue to host more than 1.4 million and 780,000 registered Afghan refugees respectively.

afghan refugee family

How long are most Afghan refugees displaced for?

After more than 40 years, Afghan refugees continue to make up one of the largest and most protracted displacement situations under UNHCR’s mandate. The prolonged nature of the crisis has prompted intensified efforts to support Afghan refugees and the host communities in Iran and Pakistan that have generously accommodated them for over four decades. These efforts include initiatives to facilitate their voluntary return and sustainable reintegration that aims to find solutions for refugees and provide support to host countries.

“Afghanistan’s displacement crisis is one of the largest and most protracted in UNHCR’s seven-decade history. We’re now seeing a third generation of Afghan children born in exile,’’ says UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

afghan refugee overlooking refugee camp

What are some of the greatest challenges displaced people from Afghanistan face today?

An estimated 600,000 Afghans have been newly displaced inside the country since January 2021 – primarily due to insecurity and violence. The impact of the conflict on women and girls has been particularly devastating — 80 percent of newly displaced Afghans are women and children. 

The needs of those who have had to flee suddenly are acute, increasing demand for shelter, food, water, non-food items, health services, livelihood opportunities and cash assistance. 

In addition to the acute needs of those recently forced to flee, the Afghan population as a whole has been pushed to the limit by prolonged conflict, high levels of displacement, the impact of COVID-19, natural disasters and deepening poverty.

two young afghan girls smiling

What is UNHCR doing to help newly displaced Afghans and Afghan refugees who wish to return home?

UNHCR and partners are assisting newly displaced Afghans with emergency shelter, food, health, water and sanitation support and cash assistance, despite challenges in accessing vulnerable groups.

UNHCR has continued its humanitarian response during the most recent outbreak of violence, and has provided life-saving support to over 332,000 newly internally displaced persons in 2021 through emergency programming — including the provision of tents, cash, hygiene kits and other essential items.

UNHCR also helps by facilitating voluntary repatriation for Afghan refugees from Iran, Pakistan and other countries, once it is established that their return is voluntary, safe, dignified and durable. Since 2002, UNHCR has supported the return of over 5.2 million refugees to Afghanistan, including over 900 refugees so far in 2021.

Afghan returnees are provided with cash grants to help address their immediate needs, as well as basic health services like malnutrition screening and vaccinations, mine risk education, information on school enrollment and overnight transit assistance. They are also assisted with reintegration into their communities.

Afghan refugee Fatima in the United States

Are there resettled Afghan refugees in the United States?

Yes. The United States has a long history of welcoming refugees, including Afghan refugees. Some of those who have been resettled are Afghan nationals who served as translators or interpreters during the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Due to their employment with the U.S. government, many faced serious threats to their safety. They have come to the U.S. seeking safety for themselves and their families and have been resettled in communities where they are now thriving. Fatima is a shining example of a young Afghan refugees who is building a better life in the United States.

Help protect Afghan refugees...

UNHCR is on the ground providing urgent aid, such as food, shelter, clean water and medicine. Your gift will have an immediate impact on displaced Afghan families who are escaping conflict and persecution. Start making a lifesaving difference and make a donation today. 

Aug 16 2021
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