FeaturedInternationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 22

Bracing for more Afghan refugees

Over one percent of the people of the world have been displaced by conflict and crisis created by man. Pakistan already hosts 1.4m refugees from Afghanistan and it is feared it will have to provide shelter to more people as fresh instability in the war-torn country may fuel a fresh influx of refugees into its neighbours.

Attacks on security personnel have also increased in Pakistan as the Taliban are trying to gain more territory in Afghanistan ahead of NATO troops’ withdrawal in September. Pakistan fears a rise in militancy and a new influx of refugees after locals are fleeing for their lives to safe havens as fighting between the militants and government forces has intensified. It appears that Afghanistan will become a new hotspot of displacement.

According to the UN Refugee Agency flagship Global Trends Report, the restrictive COVID-19 pandemic did not slow forced displacement around the world, and instead could have left thousands of refugees and asylum seekers stranded and vulnerable. Despite COVID-related movement restrictions and pleas from the international community for a concerted global ceasefire, displacement continued to occur – and to grow. As a result, more than one percent of the world’s population – or 1 in 95 people – is now forcibly displaced. This compares with 1 in 159 in 2010.

The agency explains that while the full impact of the pandemic on wider cross-border migration and displacement globally is not yet clear, data shows that arrivals of new refugees and asylum-seekers were sharply down in most regions – about 1.5 million fewer people than would have been expected in non-COVID circumstances, reflecting how many of those seeking international protection in 2020 became stranded. According to UNHCR, several crises – some new, some longstanding and some resurfacing after years – forced 11.2 million people to flee in 2020, compared to 11 million in 2019. The figure includes people displaced for the first time as well as people displaced repeatedly, both within and beyond countries’ borders. By the end of 2020, there were 20.7 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate. Another 48 million people were internally displaced (IDPs) within their own countries.

Driven mostly by crises in Ethiopia, Sudan, Sahel countries, Mozambique, Yemen, Afghanistan and Colombia, the number of internally displaced people rose by more than 2.3 million. When considering only international displacement situations, Syria topped the list with 6.8 million people, followed by Venezuela with 4.9 million. Afghanistan and South Sudan came next, with 2.8 and 2.2 million respectively. Turkey continued to host the largest number of refugees with just under 4 million, most of whom were Syrian refugees (92pc). Colombia followed, hosting over 1.7 million displaced Venezuelans. Germany hosted the third-largest population – almost 1.5 million, with Syrian refugees and asylum-seekers as the largest group (44pc). Pakistan and Uganda completed the top-5 hosting countries, with about 1.4 million each.

The COVID-19 crisis also hit the forcibly displaced hard, who faced increased food and economic insecurity as well as challenges to access health and protection services. At the peak of the last year, over 160 countries had closed their borders, with 99 States making no exception for people seeking protection. According to UNHCR, the dynamics of poverty, food insecurity, climate change, conflict and displacement are increasingly interconnected and mutually reinforcing, driving more and more people to search for safety and security.

Girls and boys under the age of 18 account for 42 percent of all forcibly displaced. They are particularly vulnerable, especially when crises continue for years. New UNHCR estimates show that almost one million children were born as refugees between 2018 and 2020. Many of them may remain refugees for years to come. The agency emphasized that over the course of 2020, some 3.2 million internally displaced and just 251,000 refugees returned to their homes –a 40 and 21 percent drop, respectively, compared to 2019. Another 33,800 refugees were naturalized by their countries of asylum. Refugee resettlement registered a drastic plunge with just 34,400 refugees resettled, the lowest level in 20 years – a consequence of a reduced number of resettlement places and COVID-19. The UN Refugee Agency reminded that 2020 was the ninth year of uninterrupted rise in forced displacement worldwide. There are twice as many forcibly displaced people than in 2011 when the total was just under 40 million.

The number of displaced persons shows that the political crisis is increasing in the world. It is a matter of great concern that among 82m people globally displaced, 42pc are under 18. The children have been robbed of their childhood and basic rights such as health and education. New developments in Afghanistan show Pakistan will have to receive a large number of refugees in the coming weeks and months. It is the responsibility of the global powers to find a more suitable solution to all conflicts in the world, especially the Afghan conflict, which has claimed millions of lives and left millions of people homeless. It is a great failure of the world leaders that they could not resolve the Afghan crisis even after decades-long war. As crises in other parts of the world have started subsiding with a new administration in the US, it is increasing in Afghanistan with the announcement of the pullout. It will badly affect Pakistan. It is feared Pakistan will have to provide shelter to millions of more refugees, while it already hosts 1.4 million Afghan people and a new influx of displaced people would put an extra burden on its limited resources and security apparatus.