UNHCR Calls for Renewed Int’l Focus on Afghanistan

UNHCR Calls for Renewed Int’l Focus on Afghanistan UNHCR Calls for Renewed Int’l Focus on Afghanistan

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres on Tuesday appealed to the international community to refocus attention on Afghanistan, warning that it would be dangerous to ignore the country, and praised Iran and Pakistan for hosting millions of Afghan refugees.

Stressing that Afghanistan was no longer “getting the attention it deserves”, he told UNHCR’s high-level Executive Committee meeting on the Afghan refugee situation: “We believe that to ignore Afghanistan would be a dangerous mistake, regardless of the urgency and scale of other, newer crises.”

At a well-attended gathering in Geneva on how to create the conditions necessary for Afghan refugees to return home and reintegrate to regions where security allows, Guterres highlighted what he called UNHCR’s long-running special relationship with Afghanistan and its two neighbors, Iran and Pakistan, which together have provided a home to 95% of Afghan refugees, reported.

“Reaching over 6 million people at its peak, this is the biggest refugee situation UNHCR has ever dealt with, as well as the biggest voluntary repatriation operation in our history, with over 5.8 million returnees since 2002,” he said.

In a pre-recorded video message to the meeting, Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani thanked UNHCR for the decades of engagement with Afghan refugees and Iran and Pakistan for opening their borders and continuing to host millions of Afghan refugees.

Ghani echoed UNHCR’s concern over possible international neglect. “The problem of refugees is a global one. They cannot be placed on an island and forgotten,” he said.


Guterres said that – although the situation in Afghanistan “remained very challenging, as recent events in Kunduz have shown” – the new Afghan national unity government of President Ghani had committed to making durable solutions for refugees and displaced persons a top national priority.

“This historic commitment, along with Afghanistan’s strengthened regional cooperation with the Islamic republics of Iran and Pakistan, offers an important opportunity to make advances in securing durable solutions for the remaining Afghans,” he said.

Nearly 800 participants, representing 131 member states, several UN and international organizations as well as NGOs attended the meeting.

Iran was represented by Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli.

Guterres said, “The regional Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees, developed by Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan with UNHCR, is the main vehicle for furthering efforts and needs to be supported more decisively.”


“The Afghan government’s initiative for an enhanced voluntary return and reintegration package for each returnee family merits particular attention, as it will provide increased support to refugee reintegration in the initial phase following their return home.”

Nearly 54,000 Afghan refugees had returned in 2015, almost as many as the combined total for the previous two years.

He praised Iran and Pakistan, which he said had generously hosted millions of Afghan refugees for the past three and a half decades, in an expression of solidarity and compassion with their neighbors, which “has few parallels in the world today.”

“These two countries still host 2.5 million registered and an estimated 2 million unregistered Afghans,” he pointed out.

Speaking about the situation in Europe this year, where he said half a million boat arrivals had overwhelmed capacities in many of the affected countries, he noted: “One cannot even begin to imagine the kind of pressure the Islamic republics of Iran and Pakistan were facing with over 6 million Afghan refugees at the time.”

He said Iran and Pakistan’s generosity continued to be exemplary with Iran now giving all foreign children irrespective of their legal status the right to be enrolled in the national education system.

“Both governments continue to provide shelter to Afghans, while at the same time working in close concert with Afghanistan on a common and mutually reinforcing strategy towards durable solutions,” he added.