Every year on 20th June we celebrate World Refugee Day, which in 2021 concludes Refugee Weekan annual UK-wide festival celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees. An unprecedented 82.4 million people were displaced across the world by the end of 2020, breaking the record high of 79.5 million the previous year reported by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Refugees are among the most vulnerable people in the world. Not only have they lost the daily security that most of us take for granted, but the loss of a permanent place to call home robs individuals of the capacity to live independent and productive lives. These challenges have been magnified by COVID-19, particularly in regards to accessing healthcare and a stable income.

What is the situation in Afghanistan?

In the last few years, hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees have been forced to leave their homes and return to Afghanistan, moving in to communities already struggling with conflict and poverty. In 2020, at least 300,512 Afghan's returned from Pakistan and Iran, forced into difficult situations, with the number growing since the coronavirus pandemic hit. 

Many of the refugees now returning to Afghanistan were born and raised in the countries they have been forced to leave - it is the only home they've ever known. Coming to live in a new place with little education or employable skills and few friends means that the men, women and youth from these families struggle to find job opportunities and suitable places to live, compounding the challenges they already face.

SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities endeavours to make cities and human settlements everywhere inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable by 2030. With UNHCR reporting that 60 per cent of all refugees and 80 per cent of internally displaced people (IDPs) live in urban areas, achieving SDG 11 is key to ensuring that refugees and IDPs can resettle safely and happily.

How are we working towards SDG 11?

Afghanaid has been supporting returning refugee families, as well as those who have been displaced internally due to conflict or natural disasters, to ensure that they successfully integrate into their new communities and establish safe, secure and happy lives.

We deliver skills training, classes in literacy and finance, and support the formation of savings groups, which enable men and women to accumulate group savings and access credit to set up new enterprises. Since 2017, we have also provided specialised reintegration training for over 4,000 men and women to help them settle into their new communities, alongside holding local events to promote understanding in the wider community, thereby ensuring these families feel welcomed.

Against the backdrop of a white wall with a wood-effect sticker on the lower half, a girl wearing a purple plaid blazer, black trousers and teal hijab is pictured sitting cross-legged on the right, smiling and looking at the camera. Behind her is a piece of teal fabric draped over something and stacked with some unidentifiable shiny objects. On the left of the first girl is another wearing black trousers, a long-sleeved red and blue plaid top and turquoise hijab - she is smiling and resting her chin on her left hand as her left elbow is propped on her left knee. To the left of the frame we can see parts of the side profiles of 3 more women sat on the floor.

These initiatives ensure that returning refugees and displaced people are able to develop the skills, knowledge and networks they need to generate an income and lift themselves out of poverty, and contribute to the development of their new communities.

Adaptation to climate change and disaster risk reduction are crucial aspects of both our work and SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. In the last three years we have established 91 community-based disaster management committees, enabling communities to identify at-risk areas and protect themselves by building flood retention walls and trenches, planting trees and relocating vulnerable livestock and homes. These committees help build stronger community networks and safer places to live, as well as reduce the chances of natural disasters causing further displacement.

This World Refugee Day, join us in celebrating the achievements of all the wonderful people we've been working with.

For instance, Bibi Gul never planned to leave her home but, when conflict erupted five years ago, she and her husband took their children and fled. Now, living in Ferozkoh in Ghor province, Bibi Gul's husband has left the family so she finds herself trying to support them alone.

Bibi Gul and her family benefited from our shelter and critical heating assistance programme in partnership with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

I am so grateful to Afghanaid for coming to help me when we were in such a critical situation. Now I am happy because my children will have a warm room and I can keep them safe from illness.

27-year-old Qiam and his family now live in Samangan’s provincial capital Aybak, where we recruited him to dig trenches and set up what will be almond tree orchards and irrigation systems for his community to use to grow crops. 

A man called Qiam is wearing a long-sleeved black top with matching trousers and a black and grey turban is pictured crouched against the background of a brown rocky slope and a sliver of bright blue sky at the top of the image frame. Qiam is wearing a light blue medical mask pulled down under his chin and is smiling at the camera as his hands rest on the top of a pickaxe.

I immediately jumped on the opportunity. My new job has given me a bit of hope that life will continue, and that everything will be okay.

What is the impact of COVID-19?

A large proportion of returning refugees and internally displaced families are forced to live in areas where overcrowding, poor nutrition, and inadequate provision of water, sanitation and hygiene present enormous challenges for preventing the spread of COVID-19. When they are on the move, the outlook is even worse. Their daily challenges are only magnified by the pandemic and for many the situation is becoming desperate.

How can you help?

These men, women and children need support to plant trees and crops across Afghanistan so they can tackle food poverty and improve their nutrition in order to thrive. We are asking you to be a part of this essential response: