On the 5th of February, the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies (CHS), in cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), organised a roundtable discussion titled "The Humanitarian Situation in Afghanistan and the Rohingya Refugee Crisis", where Mr Indrika Ratwatte, the Director of UNHCR Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, delivered the keynote speech. The event was held at the CHS headquarters and was moderated by Dr Iyad Nasr, a visiting researcher at CHS. The event was attended by a large group of Arab and foreign researchers and experts, as well as by students at the Doha Institute.
Following a brief introduction to the event, Mr Indrika Ratwatte began his speech by highlighting that the number of refugees and forcibly displaced reached about 100 million people in 2022. He attributed this largely to conflict, persecution, and human rights violations across the world. He stated that relevant actors must support displaced people to receive protection since the onset. He emphasised that when a conflict breaks out or escalates, people flee, and often when they see any kind of stability at home, they want to return. The same dynamic has been witnessed with the Rohingya crisis, which has seen recurrent cycles of displacement over a period of decades. Yet, the fundamental conditions needed to ensure sustainable return have not sustained).
According to Mr Ratwatte, there are three main steps that can be undertaken by relevant actors. Firstly, conflict prevention and addressing the root causes of displacement, where actors must work to prevent the outbreak and escalation of violence when signs of an impending conflict emerge. However, this step is not always successful. Secondly, once a conflict occurs and people are displaced, actors must ensure that civilians, including refugees, are protected, and with that responsibility comes humanitarian assistance and the protection of safety and dignity. Thirdly, solutions. Mr Ratwatte explained that to find solutions to the refugee and forced displacement crises, there must be a fundamental change in the factors that influenced them, such as peace, stability, and security at home. For instance, according to the speaker, there are millions of Afghan refugees, particularly in neighbouring countries to Afghanistan, and to ensure voluntary and sustainable return there are several necessary conditions which support this, namely the achievement of a certain level of stability, peace, and security in the country, and the provision of basic services and needs, including education and livelihood opportunities.
On the issue of girls' education in Afghanistan, Mr Ratwatte emphasised that effective and inclusive dialogue with the Taliban is needed to further advance on this issue. He also referred to the difficult situation of the Rohingya refugees in the region, where there are more than one million refugees who face difficulties and restrictions in their freedom of movement, which is also leading some to take dangerous boat journeys by sea. He also stressed that the dignity of the refugees and the displaced must be protected. He concluded by noting that the situation of the Rohingya in Myanmar remains difficult, where he hoped that multilateral action will be taken to find the space to help those affected and for peace to be achieved.
The keynote speech was followed by a Q&A session with a live audience, in which the audience asked questions on a variety of issues, including the role of some countries such as the United States and China, and its impact on the exacerbation of crises in Afghanistan and Myanmar, as well as the role of dialogue in the alleviation of humanitarian crises. The speaker commented on this by pointing out that many of the crises that occurred in the past two decades were a result of regional power dynamics. As a result, he said there were two ways to work in the United Nations: the political way and the humanitarian tracks. He explained that at some point, there is involvement on the political level, and this is happening when it is seen that a change can be brought about and a difference can be made in this field by the political call, whether through dialogue with geopolitical actors interested, such as in the crises in Afghanistan and the Rohingya, or at the level of continuing the dialogue, including with the Taliban in the former situation. He pointed out that the polarisation within the UN Security Council, for example, can affect the ability to find political solutions. He added that one of the areas of influence is the ensuring of adequate support to help the refugees and the communities and countries generously hosting them (such as in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Iran), while, in parallel, supporting investments in the country of origin to create the conditions that would be conducive to their sustainable return and reintegration.
Overall, the session shed light on the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and the Rohingya refugee crisis, including the most important steps necessary to prevent conflicts and thus avoid refugee and forced displacement crises. The session also stressed on the importance of protection and humanitarian support for refugees and displaced persons, and the necessity of political support to help them.