The problem of forced migration first struck Afghanistan when the USSR invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. The number of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Afghanistan since the Soviet Invasions adds up to approximately half the prewar population of Afghanistan. Following the end of Soviet occupation in Afghanistan is a civil war which is generating large numbers of refugees and IDPs.
Repatriation of 2002
Global responses to the forced migration in Afghanistan have been varied in nature. Since 2002, in the largest refugee return process ever, over 5 million Afghans returned to the country, the vast majority of them from the neighboring countries of Pakistan and Iran. According to UNHCR, between January 2002 and March 2003, more than 1.8 million refugees and some 600,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) returned voluntarily to re-establish their lives. To provide a framework for the repatriation process, tripartite agreements were negotiated with countries that hosted a large number of Afghan refugees, especially neighboring Pakistan and Iran, but also France, the UK and the Netherlands. The response of some countries like Iran to this agreement was to conclude that of all the Afghans claiming refugee status in Iran, only 2.3 million Afghan refugees were covered by the agreement. This meant that around 40,000 non-registered Afghan citizens were deported back to the country to an unsafe and unstable environment.
However this repatriation process does not, in any way, indicate that Afghanistan is now rid of its problems with respect to forced migrants. Today, more than 3 million registered refugees remain in exile – 2.1 million in Pakistan and 0.9 million in Iran (Refugees International, 2009). Moreover, there have been many instances where the repatriation process of 2002 led to forced migrants not receiving adequate support upon return. Many refugees are now being forced to return home despite the fact that living conditions are not always secure or humane. The main reason for this is the reluctance of Pakistan and Iran to play host to Afghanistan’s many forced migrants (Refugees International, 2009). The lack of adequate response from the global community as a whole means that the burdensome task of finding solutions to the problem lies in the hands of few people who may not be able to cope with its scope and magnitude.
Security Situation in Afghanistan
Moreover, it is difficult for UN and International aid agencies to provide adequate response because the security situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate. This is an indication that it is vital to consider the root causes of a problem. In some cases, the international community insists on repatriation, and this only exacerbates the problem. As was the case in Afghanistan, the enforcement of repatriation prematurely only increases the number of IDPs in the country.
A pertinent problem hampering effective response to forced migration in Afghanistan is that of deteriorating access, which is a result of security problems, both for the UN and international aid organizations. Between January and June 2009, security incidents in the country increased by 43% compared to the first half of 2008 (Refugees International, 2009). This increases the reluctance amongst aid workers to remain in Afghanistan, considerably reducing the amounts of aid that forced migrants in the country receive.
Lack of sufficient response from International Community
The global response in general to the forced migration crisis in general has been to underplay its magnitude and importance. The UN specifically is reluctant to acknowledge the scope of the humanitarian situation in relation to forced migration in Afghanistan. This could be explained by the fact that the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) has been mandated to support the Afghan government, which is itself a party to the conflict.
The majority of funds from the international community that come into Afghanistan are dedicated to development projects. If a donor country is militarily involved in Afghanistan, such as the USA, these funds are mainly directed towards regions where the country’s troops are located. It appears that in many cases since the invasion of Afghanistan by American troops in 2001, development projects have been used as a tool for counter-insurgency. This shows self-interest based motives on the part of the donor countries, and a natural result of that is the lack of sufficient assistance provided to those who really need it: refugees living abroad in camps waiting to return to their homeland, and Internally Displaced Persons who, despite being in their homeland, are homeless.
Society as a barrier
Afghanistan is a good example of a country where the predominant mindset of a society can be a barrier to how people respond to a forced migration crisis. One of the first initiatives of the Soviet Union was to educate minority population groups such as women and children. These were interpreted as being communist and anti-Islamic amongst those opposing the Soviet regime. This became a major obstacle to those engaged in working among Afghan refugee women in refugee camps, even in those outside national borders, such as in Pakistan. Programs initiated by humanitarian workers to benefit women and make them more self-sustainable come under close male scrutiny, and therefore, many do not succeed..
Complexity of Finding Durable Solutions
Perhaps the situation for refugees from Afghanistan and IDPs within the country is often overlooked because of the complexity of finding durable solutions to the problem. Global responses to forced migration in Afghanistan can be at various levels: working towards the prevention of the conflict that displaced so many citizens; providing immediate assistance to these displaced people; providing skill training for forced migrants; repatriating them; rehabilitating them in new environments; encouraging integration in either the homeland or a new region. Most important players in this issue simply chose the policy that best suits them in terms of self interest at a given time and pursue it. This leads to the lack of a cohesive and combined approach which is what Afghanistan needs to solve its problem of forced migrants.