Photo: UNHCR /S. Rich

Global Fund Allocates Over $4 Million to Assist Afghan Returnees from Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN – The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (the Global Fund) has allocated over $4.7 million in emergency funding to provide healthcare services to Afghan returnees from Pakistan.

In a statement on Thursday, February 22, the Global Fund announced that the $4.7 million in emergency funds will supplement a $66 million grant initiated on January 1, 2024, for a three-year period.

The statement indicates that the funding will assist UN agencies in providing HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria services to the 1.3 million Afghans who have been residing in Pakistan and are expected to return to Afghanistan in the coming year.

Last year in October, the Pakistan caretaker government announced a plan known as The Illegal Foreigners Repatriation Plan (IFRP), asking all undocumented immigrants to leave the country or face deportation.

Although the plan purported to apply to all foreigners residing in the country illegally, it appears designed to target Afghan refugees, millions of whom have sought refuge in Pakistan over the years. Since then, over half a million immigrants, mostly women and children have been deported to the impoverished Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Pakistani authorities claim that undocumented refugees are a major source of insecurity and illegal activities in their country, justifying the crackdown as a counter-terrorism measure. However, the US-based International Crisis Group believes that the mass deportation is primarily driven by Pakistan’s loss of patience with the Taliban regime, rather than any direct threat posed by the immigrants themselves.

Pakistan’s deportation of Afghan refugees is taking place amidst a severe humanitarian and health crisis in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Reports from border areas indicate that returnees are facing shortages of tents and other basic necessities.

“The anticipated 1.3 million people represent over 3% of Afghanistan’s population,” stated Annelise Hirschmann, Head of the Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America & the Caribbean Department at the Global Fund. “This steep increase in population, especially in the rural and hard-to-reach areas bordering Pakistan, represents an epidemiological risk and cannot be accommodated without reinforcing essential HIV, TB and malaria services.”

According to the statement, the funding will be allocated towards diagnostics, the provision of long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs) for returning individuals settling in high malaria prevalence regions, setting up TB and HIV testing and treatment facilities at border areas.

“We already have systems in place to address the immediate needs of the returnees who are at increased risk of HIV, TB and malaria,” said Stephen Rodriques, Resident Representative of UNDP Afghanistan. “With this emergency funding from the Global Fund, we can help further minimize health risks to the returnees, who are already in a precarious situation. We welcome this decision and look forward to a continued partnership with the Global Fund.”

The Global Fund says that since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, the organization has allocated over US$150 million to fight HIV, TB, malaria, build resilient and sustainable systems for health, and respond to COVID-19 in Afghanistan.

“Within Afghanistan’s highly challenging operating environment, our grants, implemented through UNDP, support interventions designed to protect hard-won gains against the three diseases, foster continued progress and strengthen the country’s fractured health system,” part of the statement reads.