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Afghan Research Society
M. Siddieq Noorzoy
M. Siddieq Noorzoy

June 20, 2006

The Present Conditions of the Refugees and the Internally Displaced Afghans:
The Lack of Their Proper Care

For the past five years most references from the international organizations and many
governments about the refugee situation in Afghanistan call the fact that some 3.5
million refugees have returned from Pakistan and Iran a great policy success. This
statement is widely available on the web sites of many of the agencies and
departments of these governments.  See, for example, the official web sites of the US
and Canadian governments. However, because there were no proper planning,
financing, and management of the repatriation of the unprecedented number of
refugees the experience has turned into a major catastrophe. And, unfortunately with
the aim of not admitting to any policy failure this problem is largely ignored. The
repatriating refugees are confronted with unemployment, poverty, general insecurity
and corruption, none of which they know how to overcome in their attempt to resettle in
There has been significant increase in unemployment numbering more than 2.5
million, and there is no national employment policy for the repatriating refugees. More
than 2 million Afghans have gone working on the farms cultivating and processing
poppies into opium. There are an estimated one million children of age 14 or less
working full time for survival, with 37,000 in Kabul alone. Clearly the large repatriation
of refugees have added to these problems and to poverty. The UNDP’s Human
Development Index had given Afghanistan a ranking of 173 out of 178 nations in 2004,
only five countries had less favorable rankings. This index paints a picture of
Afghanistan in an extremely difficult set of social conditions. One out of two Afghans is
considered poor by the UNDP, with no assets of any kind and probably in debt.
When the US announced an assistance of $43 million for Afghanistan in 2000 at the
time when the findings by the UN were released there were 4.5 million Afghans facing
near starvation conditions. The long years of war, severe drought for four years during
1998-2002 and US and UN sanctions were all contributing factors. Despite the
announcements of large international assistance, there were 6.4 million Afghans
facing the same or worse conditions in 2004, a 42% increase in poverty. In all
likelihood this was directly due to the repatriation of the large number of refugees
accompanied by the failure of policy makers in not planning, financing, and
administering the repatriation of the refugees properly.
In a rush to declare “success”, policy makers inside and outside Afghanistan ignored
past studies and warnings about planning for a gradual repatriation of the millions of
refugees (1). It has been obvious for some time that the fractured and disintegrated
Afghan economy largely destroyed by many factors and neglected in many ways did
not have the capacity to gainfully employ large numbers of refugees, let alone 3.5
million refugees in a short period of time who essentially needed every thing to re-
establish their lives. This should have been clear to the Afghan and foreign policy
makers at the outset of formulating policies of openly encouraging refugees to
repatriate in the post October, 2001 after the fall of the Taliban regime.
The details of the repatriation of such large number of refugees, their age and gender
size distributions, their economic and educational and health conditions are not easily
available even though the UNHCR must have registered all or at least most returning
refugees at the time of providing some assistance to them.  Although some small
numbers have also returned from other parts of the world, such as several hundred
from Russia, the vast majority of Afghan refugees were situated in the neighboring
countries of Pakistan and Iran ever since the Soviet invasion in 1979 and even from the
year before when the communist coup de tat took place on April 27, 1978.  In fact, at
the time of the Russian defeat and troop withdrawal in February 1989, there were 3.5
million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan and 2.24 million in Iran. There were
many unregistered refugees also who for one reason or another did not register with
the UNHCR or the governments of Pakistan and Iran. These figures had grown to
much larger numbers by 2001 through the natural growth of refugee population as well.
After the repatriation of the 3.5 million refugees during 2002-2006, there were still an
estimated 2.8 million long term refugees and another 110,000 from the post 2001
attack on Afghanistan in Pakistan. There were also another 900,000 refugees in Iran
as of March 2005. Between March 2005 and March 2006, 400,000 refugees were to
have repatriated from Pakistan and Iran according to the agreement of March 2005
among Pakistan/Afghanistan/UN. The exact number of refugees seem to be not known
since the UNDP in its 3/15/2006 web site statement declares that an estimated 3.4
million refugees are outside and 200,000 Afghans are internally displaced persons (
IDPs ) inside the country in the southern and western provinces. There are 48,500
internally displaced Afghans in the De Zhre Dasht who have been stuck in desperate
conditions in the desert for over four years. These are the Afghans who were driven out
by the criminal elements and warlords from northern Afghanistan after the US led
coalition attack of October 7, 2001, and cannot go back due to the presence of the
same conditions. During the winter of 2002 due to the lack of proper shelter 41
children among these internally displace Afghans died in one night. The Editor of
Dawat, an Afghan run newspaper published in Norway also with a web site publication
(www.Dawatnet.com ) had asked Ruud Luubers, the High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR) why did the UNHCR not help these refugees, his reply was “ the
Kabul government asked us to stop assistance to the refugees”.  In the same article
dated December 2002, page 3  Ruud Luubers makes it clear that it is the threat from
warlords that makes it impossible for the refugees to return to their place of resident in
the north. Yet, these refugees are still in the same area in 2006. The media reported
that during  summer 2003 the UNHCR helped 1800 Uzbeks who were refugees in
Pakistan go back north under the UN protection.  Many among the Afghan people want
to know why the Afghans at the De Zhre Dasht are not helped to go back to their lands
and homes in a similar way?
The refugees and the IDPs are not simply numbers, but, people in great need after
years of refugees status and internally displaced situations having experienced many
difficult conditions. Some have worked in the countries of their temporary asylum,
many have simply survived on small amounts of assistance. I have seen their
conditions on several occasions in Pakistan and the general observation that can be
made is that the Afghan refugees lacked proper shelter, education and healthcare and
survived on minimal assistance. Furthermore, when they are to repatriate back to the
areas that they came from or to new areas of settlement clearly they would be in need
of significant amounts of financial assistance and  proper assessments and provision
of their needs in many areas such as shelter, employment, healthcare, and education.  
In addition, the over all picture about the Afghan refugees indicates that statistical
information about the refugees are incomplete for several reasons. First, there have
been many waves of outflows of refugees over the many years largely caused by the
push factors in Afghanistan due to the wars, but, also due to famine conditions. Many
of these refugees were registered by the UNHCR for assistance purposes and also by
the neighboring countries of Pakistan and Iran wanting to establish a data base for the
refugees. However, due to the open borders and the chaotic conditions that have
prevailed for many years many refugees simply crossed borders without registering.
Second, it must be pointed out that there were periods that many refugees returned
when there were hopes of peace and security in the past. This was the case, for
example, during the first part of 1992 when the communist regime had been replaced
by the coalition of the mujahideen regime, before the start of the civil war during the
four years 1992-96 that drove out 620,000 residents of Kabul into exile as refugees
and as IDPs, and some 60,000 were also killed by the factions that the Russian
Consulate in Mazar later named the Northern Alliance in November 1996 at a
gathering of them at Khenjan after these factions had been driven out of Kabul by the
Taliban in September of that year.  Third, both the governments of Pakistan and Iran
have exerted pressure on the Afghan refugees to repatriate during the last few years,
which clearly have forced many to repatriate. The UNHCR has tried in these cases to
create a program of voluntary repatriation during the past two years since it realized
that Afghanistan could not absorb large inflows of additional refugees. At the same
time there seems to be little follow up programs to find out the real conditions and
needs of the refugees once they return. This clearly is a serious problem both for
those who have returned to urban areas, but, especially for those who have repatriated
to rural areas and distant villages which are out of sight in the interior areas of
Afghanistan. There are an estimated 38,000 villages in Afghanistan and monitoring the
conditions of the refugees in so many villages is a difficult and costly job. These
issues required careful planning. But, the rush to war and the chaos that has followed
obviated these considerations.  
Considering that most of the refugees have been outside Afghanistan for many years
and that many were born in the areas of refuge then it would stand to reason that
repatriation of the refugees would require careful financing. This would seem
particularly important for some obvious reasons. First, most of the Afghan refugee
would return with little or no income and assets, since their assets were lost in the
war, or sold when they moved outside the country for the maintenance of minimal living
standards, and the assistance they were receiving were barely sufficient for survival in
refugee camps, so that their repatriation would require significant assistance. Second,
in repatriating to their homeland refugees require short term and emergency type of
assistance, and long term assistance of six months or so in order to re-establish
themselves in farming, business, or simply finding work and adjusting to the work,
education and healthcare environments. During these periods the refugees also
require both financial assistance and guidance and help to adjust to the new
Despite these considerations, and the fact that in a just world one would argue for
compensation for the refugees for the sufferings they have experienced in terms of a
disutility index that would measure the amount of compensation as a function of the
number of years as a refugee, loss of assets and income, loss of education and work
opportunities, the repatriation of the Afghan refugees during the last five years have
ended up to be a large scale failure of the UNHCR, international community including
the US led coalition that has caused the recent outflows of refugees and the IPDs in
the southern provinces, and the regime in Afghanistan. The fact that there are more
than 500,000 Afghans without shelter,water, and other requirements in the capital city,
and that there are some 200,000 IDPs among whom 48,500 are stuck in the De Zhre
Dasht in the south west shows a large scale failure of those in charge of decision
making inside and outside Afghanistan.
What is the meaning of social rehabilitation and economic reconstruction if priority is
not given to the most needy who form a large part of the society and can contribute to
its recovery significantly? It seems that the repatriation of the 3.5 million refugees at
least during 2002-2004 was based on an ad hoc approach without significant
planning for the care of the refugees and IDPs. This in view of the high expectations of
large scale assistance and the so-called Marshall Plan type of international
assistance led by the US which were talked about during 2001/2002 is a problem in
management in not prioritizing the social rehabilitation of the refugees and IDPs as
part of the process of economic reconstruction in Afghanistan.
The actual amount of assistance given to the refugees at the time of repatriation is
scandalous. One cannot expect much from the Kabul regime which heavily depends
on foreign assistance. But, one can expect publicly announced demands by its
members on behalf of the refugees and the IDPs asking for appropriate amounts of
assistance for these segments of the society, if they had properly analyzed their
needs.  The UNHCR does not provide the amount of assistance except a declaration
that the refugees are assisted. Some international media sources, however, do
mention these amounts. For example, www.IRINnews.org  mentions that during 2002-
2005 refugees were provided from $4 to $37 per person for transportation and a cash
grant of $12 for resettlement in Afghanistan.
The UNHCR in its December 2005 campaign for the 2006 budget is asking for $60.98
million for possible returnees numbering 605,000 and another 55,000 IDPs.
Extrapolating  from these  figures it seems that the UNHCR is asking a per capita
assistance of $90-95 for the January to December 2006. It spends a maximum of
$37+12= $49 on some refugees per capita if it pays out the maximum of $37 for
transportation. It looks that it pays out about 50% of the assistance that the UNHCR is
asking per person for transportation and resettlement. There are two unanswered
questions here: first, why such inefficiency in the use of funds, and second, why ask so
little from the international community for the most needy section of the Afghan
population when there is an estimated $2-3 billion allocated for Afghanistan per year
for reconstruction and humanitarian assistance? The World Bank mentions that the
government in Kabul had budgeted $2.8 billion for development in 2004/2005. It also
states that 75% of these funds are spent outside the regime. The US has announced
that during the last five years it has provided Afghanistan $10.3 billion. What are these
funds spent on when the Economist in its September 17, 2005 issue stated that the
international community provided $10 to Afghanistan for humanitarian and
reconstruction purposes and yet, one major road had been built.
It is important to get answers for these questions and the reasons for the failure of
policies. The issues surrounding the Afghan refugees will continue to exist as there
are still 3.4 million refugees out side Afghanistan and a quarter of million internally
displaced. There cannot be political stability, social progress and gains in economic
welfare if the above issues are not addressed properly. What is also lacking here is
investigative journalism for humanitarian reasons and in the public interest both in
Afghanistan and in the donor countries to try to get some answers for the funds that
are allocated in the name of the Afghan people but, in the case of millions of refugees,
little effect is shown. Increased poverty and unemployment should not take place as
the repatriation of several million more Afghan refugees are expected in the next
several years from Pakistan and Iran.
These warnings were stated in the papers put out by Operation Salam between 1989-
1992, a UN agency for the post war reconstruction in Afghanistan based in Geneva.

See also, this writer’s paper presented to a seminar organized by Operation Salam
and the Universite De Neuchatel  during May 5-7, 1989, in Geneva, where the
importance of the phased repatriation of refugees were emphasized as part of a blue
print for the “Issues on and Problems of Social and Economic Reconstruction and
Recovery in Afghanistan”, GE.89-01370, Geneva, May, 1989.

Planning figures
Population Jan 2006 Dec 2006
Returnees 605,000 605,000
Returnee IDPs 55,000 50,000
IDPs 50,000 -
Asylum-seekers 30 150
Refugees 10 140
Others of concern - 5
Total 710,040 655,295
Total requirements: USD 60,978,721
Source: UNHCR 243 Global Appeal 2006
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