The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 marks the first wave of internal displacement and refugee flow from Afghanistan to neighboring countries. When the Soviet war ended in 1989 the refugees started to come back to their homeland. Afghans again fled to neighboring countries in 1992 when the Mujahideen took over control of Kabul and other cities, and major civil war began.

Credit: UNHCR-Pakistan

According to UNHCR, there are almost 2.5 million registered refugees from Afghanistan, hosted by 70 countries around the world.  They embrace the largest overlong refugee population in Asia and the second-largest refugee population in the world. A vast majority of the refugees are being hosted by Iran & Pakistan.

Pakistan has been home to over a million refugees for the past 40 years. 1.5 million officially registered Afghan refugees were reported to be living in Pakistan additionally, approximately 1 million more unregistered refugees. Recently, however, due to security concerns as well as increasing political strains between Pakistan and Afghanistan, there has been a penetration of refugees returning to Afghanistan. Pakistan initially allowed Afghan refugees legal refugee status until December 31 of 2016, after which they would be required to leave or be deported, however in September the deadline of their return was extended until March 31, 2017.


The World Factbook states, in 2015 there were about 1 million registered and between 1.5 and 2.0 million undocumented Afghan refugees in Iran. The majority of these refugees were born in Iran during the last three and a half decades. However, they are still considered citizens of Afghanistan. In 2016, there was a decrease of spontaneous returns from Iran by 21 percent and a decrease of deportations by 14 percent.

Even though Afghanistan may appear on a way towards peace, decades of conflict created an extensive humanitarian need within the country. According to the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), over 6.3 million Afghans currently require humanitarian assistance, and ongoing insecurity makes it difficult for humanitarians to operate. Internal and outbound displacements, Access to population, Insecurities are the major 3 humanitarian situations in Afghanistan.

A group of Afghan Refugees. Credit: Reese Erlich

Afghanistan refugee crisis remains the single largest refugee crisis in the world, though the international community at large often ignores or forgets about the problem. In it’s prime, there were more than six million refugees from Afghanistan in surrounding countries. International agencies and governments are concerned for 2.7 million refugees, as well as countless other internally displaced persons.

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