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Afghans form world's largest refugee population

Today, Afghanistan was a nation at a crossroads, still recovering from over thirty years of war, state collapse and human suffering on a massive scale, author and UN envoy Khaled Hosseini said. Since 2002, more than 5.7 million Afghans had returned home, most of them with assistance from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Still, with the rising level of insecurity, limited access to basic services and livelihood, there had been a steady decline of returns since 2008, he said. Today, Afghans form the largest refugee population in the world, as well as the largest group of asylum-seekers. Approximately 2.7 million Afghans still lived in neighbouring countries, 1.7 million people in Pakistan, and nearly a million in Iran. Eighty percent have beenn in exile for decades or more, and half of them were born there.

Reintegrating returnees into the fabric of the Afghan society continues to be a challenge, he said. For a country with thirty-six percent of the population living below poverty level, the return of millions of people strained already scarce resources.

Hosseini, the author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, gave his remarks as part of a conference on the continuing humanitarian crisis facing countries around the world as they deal with refugee populations. 

The recently released “Global Trends 2011” estimates that, worldwide, 42.5 million people ended 2011 either as refugees, internally displaced or in the process of seeking asylum.

Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, Hosseini came to the United States in 1980 when his family was granted political asylum. 

“As an asylum-seeker myself, I have always felt a personal connection to the plight of refugees around the world, especially those from my own birth country,” he said. When UNHCR asked him to join in its effort to advocate for refugees, it was a “very natural fit”, he said.

During his visits to settlements in Afghanistan, refugees described their day-to-day challenges of trying to restart their lives in a country where basic services had collapsed. An elderly person took him to what was essentially a hole in the ground, where a community had spent the last three winters and lost children every winter because of exposure to the freezing temperatures.

Asked about a practical way to help the situation improve, Hosseini said the creation of an environment conducive to  providing employment opportunities, food security and good quality of life was necessary.


Photo courtesy of Razia's Ray of Hope. Those interested in learning more about their education programs in Afghanistan should click here.

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