Afghanistan: What Now for Refugees?

Posted in Afghanistan | 01-Sep-09 | Source: International Crisis Group

The sun sets over a camp for Helmand province refugees located on the outskirts of Kabul, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2009 in Afghanistan.

Kabul/Islamabad/Brussels, 31 August 2009: If the Afghan government wants to prevent further internal violence and regional instability, it must urgently address the needs of the returning refugees and those in neighbouring countries.

Afghanistan: What Now for Refugees?,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the renewed population displacement and the consequences of the government's inability to ensure security and basic services for the returnees. Approximately three million registered refugees still remain in Iran and Pakistan alone, while five million Afghans have returned home. Population displacement, secondary migration and a decrease in returns from exile are causes20and consequences of the state's shortcomings. Meeting the needs of repatriating families will be a litmus test for Kabul's ability to govern. This includes security issues, overcoming obstacles to return and tackling the continued refugee presence abroad.

"Ensuring regional peace and stability is vital for addressing the needs of Afghanistan's mobile population", says Candace Rondeaux, Crisis Group Senior Analyst. "Liberalising mobility and strengthening administrative control over border crossings are essential to prevent further deterioration of the conflict".

With the rural areas increasingly insecure, many returning Afghans have migrated to towns and cities. This is causing rapid urbanisation which contributes to rising poverty, unemployment and criminality. Young, displaced and unemployed men are particularly vulnerable to recruitment by the insurgency. Land disputes risk sparking deep-rooted tribal, ethnic or sectarian violence. In addition, the shortcomings of the government services compel many Afghans to rely on their informal solidarity networks and patron-client relations. These further undercut the establishment of a durable state-citizen relationship. It is urgent to address the needs of a fast-growing poor and largely marginalised population.

The prolonged refugee presence and the persistence of unchecked cross-border movements have increased Pakistan's and Iran's leverage over their neighbour. Migrants and terrorist networks=2 0often use the same transport routes, making it difficult to distinguish the two. As a result, Tehran and Islamabad are inclined to seal their borders and pressure the millions of remaining Afghan refugees to return home. With Pakistan and Iran toughening their stance, the threat of mass deportations strains Kabul's relations with both countries. If carried out, such deportations would further destabilise the already fragile state.

"The governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran must explore legal and political channels to liberalise and enable regional mobility", says Samina Ahmed, Crisis Group's South Asia Project Director. "Such approaches can only succeed if they are strongly endorsed by the international community and made an integral part of peace building in the region".

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