As the world marks World Refugee Day on June 20, we must remember that it is not only the refugee crisis that is hampering development efforts in many countries. There is also a silent emerging crisis of people driven from their homes to another part of their own country, people known as internally displaced persons (IDPs). It is a growing issue that several countries are facing, with enormous social and political pressures to address.
In Afghanistan, there are an estimated 1.2 million people who are internally displaced because of insecurity or are being forced to leave their homes due to natural disasters. This is in addition to the nearly 6 million people who have returned to Afghanistan since 2002, making one in five Afghans a returnee. In 2016, more than 620,000 Afghans returned from Pakistan alone.
The massive influx of returnees and IDPs is placing tremendous pressure on Afghanistan’s already fragile social and economic infrastructure and is a threat to regional stability.
When I first took up my position as Country Director of the World Bank for Afghanistan, I was struck by the plight of returnees and IDPs and by how hard-pressed the Afghan government was in dealing with them. During my first days in office, back in November 2016, I visited a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) center on the outskirts of Kabul. The center serves as the first entry point for returnees where they can receive assistance—including cash—and attend awareness and safety sessions to help them better integrate in their new communities.
I also had the opportunity to see firsthand the challenges IDPs are dealing with as they took temporary shelter in a neighborhood in Kabul city. The life of a displaced person is difficult as many go without proper food or a safe place to live. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that many IDPs left their homes with nothing but clothes on their backs. “We fled to Kabul with nothing from our home because of war and insecurity,” said Afzal Khan, 50, originally a resident of Achin district in Nangarhar Province. He fled in 2015 and ended up with 14 other family members in an informal settlement in District 21 of Kabul city.
Even as returnees and IDPs seek work, the lack of job opportunities prevents them from becoming financially independent. As Afzal Khan observed, “Work opportunities are limited and we have no income.” Relief work, together with development investments, can offer sustainable solutions for IDPs, returnees, and their host communities. Accordingly, the World Bank is supporting the Government of Afghanistan’s policy framework, which aims to safely and successfully reintegrate returnees and IDPs into the social and economic fabric of Afghanistan.
This support builds on research from a collaboration between the World Bank and UNHCR to integrate returnees and IDPs in Afghanistan.
A systematic approach to tackling the returnee and displacement crisis means that the work will take a more comprehensive approach to the problem. For example, the Citizens’ Charter of Afghanistan Project (CCAP), a community led development program, will first be implemented in provinces that host IDPs and returnees.
Further to this, the Bank is providing an additional $127.7 million to the CCAP to extend its service delivery package and provide emergency short-term employment opportunities through labor-intensive public works. This financing will also support coordinated actions beyond public works in communities where IDPs are taking temporary shelter and/or returnees have been resettled by the government.
The $127.7 million grant, which was approved on June 13, will be provided by the International Development Association’s Emergency Regional Displacement Response Fund. It aims to foster greater social inclusion and protect the ultra-poor and vulnerable in both urban and rural communities.
As most returnees and IDPs benefit from the larger government programs and projects, the World Bank, one of the main contributors to the government development budget, will ensure that its assistance will be more inclusive to reach all segments of Afghan society.
As it has done over the last 15 years, the World Bank will continue to support Afghanistan’s development and strive to help all Afghans secure a more prosperous and peaceful future.