The European Union and UNHCR have signed a new partnership agreement worth some €34 million aimed at supporting the nearly 6.5 million Afghans in the Islamic Republics of Iran and Pakistan, as well as the more than 1.2 million people internally displaced inside the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Forty years of conflict and a deteriorating security situation in the country have had terrible consequences on the Afghan population.
On signing the agreement, the Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development at the European Commission, Neven Mimica, said: "We cannot forget the difficult situation Afghans live in. Decades of conflict and insecurity have resulted in millions fleeing their homes within their country as well as to the Islamic Republics of Iran and Pakistan. These countries and their populations deserve our support. This €34 million EU contribution - which is part of a bigger package of €195.7 million for migration and displacement in Asia - will improve access to health services and education, as well as the provision of legal assistance, and will contribute to refugees' and host communities' economic self-reliance."
The joint programme will run for three years and includes a contribution from UNHCR of €18 million, bringing the total contribution for these efforts to more than €52 million. As part of the regional Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees (SSAR) agreed by the three Governments in 2012 and supported by UNHCR, the investment will help the governments of the three countries to find durable solutions for Afghan refugees and their host and return communities. Specific measures will include to enhance legal protection and assistance for Afghan refugees and returnees, and to provide training for teachers and health staff, school construction, business support, and vocational training, among other measures.
"UNHCR welcomes this renewed partnership with the European Commission, which will help to support solutions for Afghan refugees and improve their lives" UNHCR Director for Asia and the Pacific, Indrika Ratwatte said. "UNHCR appreciates the Islamic Republics of Pakistan and Iran for hosting Afghan refugees, and we call on the international community to continue supporting Afghan refugees and the communities hosting them, as well as by providing development assistance in Afghanistan to help enable the sustainable reintegration of returnees", he added.
With four decades of forced displacement from Afghanistan and to neighbouring countries, this region accounts for one of the largest and most protracted populations of refugees in the world. Continued conflict and insecurity make voluntary, safe and dignified return of Afghans to their country challenging.
The Islamic Republics of Pakistan and Iran are the second and fifth largest refugee hosting countries in the world. Around 3.5 million Afghans reside in Iran (of whom almost one million are refugees) and some 2.9 million in Pakistan (of whom 1.4 million are refugees). Many have been there for decades, with inevitable humanitarian, socio-economic, and environmental impacts on the two host countries.
In this context, the EU adopted a special measure in September 2017 for an amount of €195.7 million: 'Addressing migration and forced displacement challenges in Asia and the Middle East: a comprehensive regional EU Response'. Under this framework the EU has already committed €25 million to support Afghan children on the move (implemented by UNICEF), as well as €16.7 million in support of housing and land allocation for migrants, internally displaced people (IDPs) and returnees in Afghanistan (implemented by UN-Habitat). Ongoing programmes funded in 2016 (€79 million) contribute to the reintegration of Afghan returnees and IDPS in Afghanistan, focusing on support to the implementation of national policies and action plans.
The EU is a longstanding partner of Afghanistan, and its current bilateral assistance amounts to € 1.4 billion for the period 2014-2020. EU support focuses on peace, stability and democracy, sustainable economic growth and jobs, and the provision of basic social services. This programme is complemented by regional projects that support the fight against terrorism and crime, promote peace through regional integration, and facilitate cross-border economic cooperation and trade. The EU also strongly supports strengthening civil society in Afghanistan to carry out its monitoring and advocacy role, notably in giving women a stronger voice in public life.