More than a million people were uprooted in Afghanistan last year. This year, at least another million Afghans are “on the move” inside the country and across its borders. Many fled violence or conflict; others escaped hardships such as poverty or drought. Still others were forced to return from Pakistan and Iran.
Afghanistan has now agreed to accept Afghan asylum seekers deported from the European Union. The deal, signed in October, could lead the E.U. to construct a separate terminal for deportees at Kabul’s international airport, and as many as 100,000 Afghans could return.
“This sudden increase [in the displaced] has put a lot of pressure on Afghanistan, which has had 30 years of war,” said Nader Farhad, spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency in Kabul. “It’s not easy to put together the infrastructure, to provide the services that are required,” he said, adding that the displaced need everything from food and blankets to jobs and health care.
“To the European countries, we say: Instead of investing in the return of Afghans to Afghanistan, tackle the root causes,” Farhad said. If the United Nations and other aid agencies fail to provide emergency assistance, “it will be a humanitarian crisis,” he said.
Massive displacement has plagued Afghanistan for years, beginning with the Soviet invasion in 1979. That conflict kindled two decades of war. When the United States invaded in 2001, some 4 million Afghans were living in Pakistan and Iran. Many of those refugees later returned, driven by hopes for stability and peace. But now, Afghanistan is witnessing some of its worst violence since the United States helped to topple the Taliban.
More than 1,600 civilians were killed in the first six months of 2016, according to a U.N. report released in July. That was the highest number of civilian casualties in the first half of a year since the United Nations began keeping track in 2009.
The Taliban controls more territory than at any time since 2001. Recent violence has been driven by Taliban assaults on Afghan cities, putting more civilians in the crosshairs. And the clashes have pushed even more people from their homes.