Afghanistan: IDPs willing to settle in south
ZHARE DASHT, 27 December (IRIN) - Tens of thousands of internally displaced persons [IDPs] in the southern border camp of Zhare Dasht are seeking assistance to help them settle in an area they have lived in temporarily over the last two years.
With drought conditions continuing in the areas these IDPs came from, the destitute families prefer to stay in Zhare Dasht rather than return to their places of origin. Although the desert area is cold during the winter and isolated from southern Kandahar city, people say they can manage to earn a living or receive some aid assistance in the troubled IDP camp.
"We cannot live forever as IDPs, nor can we return to our lost lands, pasture and cattle. We want to settle here," Abdul Quam, the chief of the IDPs, told IRIN in Zhare Dasht, 45 km west of Kandahar.
The IDP camp hosts nearly 45,000 people who took refuge in the desert in early 2002 after harassment by local commanders and incidents of systematic ethnic discrimination in the country's northern provinces.
According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 45 percent of the IDPs are Kochee nomads from the south. The Kochees, whose livelihood depends on livestock breeding, were displaced after losing their cattle and pastures following years of prolonged drought.
Nearly three years after the fall of the Taliban, conditions in Afghanistan still do not allow for the return of all IDPs.
According to the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation (MORR), after another year of drought and crop failures, more than a third of the Afghan population remains dependent on food aid. Among them are at least 167,000 IDPs, most of them living in camps in the south and west of the country. Persistent drought, a lack of infrastructure and slow reconstruction has considerably slowed the pace of return in 2004.
Only 17,000 IDPs have made the journey home since the beginning of the year. Unable or unwilling to return to their homes, the remaining IDPs, most of them drought-affected nomadic Kochees, are now in need of long-term solutions that go beyond humanitarian assistance.
"My husband died and I am vulnerable and have no place to return. I need assistance for longer settlement here," Taj Bibi, a widowed mother-of-five, told IRIN. Bibi said there was no work or aid assistance in her northern hometown of Maimana. "Here, at least there is some assistance and some jobs for my sons to earn a living," she maintained.
Meanwhile, the provincial authorities in Kandahar said the government was working on a plan to identify Zhare Dasht as a new district and assist some of the most vulnerable to settle in the area. The plan was that some 500 families would be locally reintegrated and house plots would be donated after a further review of the general situation in Zhare Dasht and their places of origin, Mohammad Hassan Rahimi, Kandahar's head of planning and statistics, told IRIN.
But UNHCR officials said they would continue to assist the families who still wanted to return to their places of origin. "We will wait for the decision of the government. If they [the IDPs] are locally integrated we will decrease assistance," Ahmad Shah, an information assistant for the UN refugee agency, told IRIN.
Shah said, if the IDPs stayed in Zhare Dasht, UNHCR would increase vocational training programmes to help them become self-reliant.
The United Nations International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is trying to revive the nomadic life for some of the Kochee IDPs who want to restart their traditional way of living. The agency is planning to lend sheep and other forms of assistance to help them return to their pastures.
"But those Kochees who do not want to resume their nomadic life will be provided with vocational training, such as in tractor repairs, carpentry, cycle repairs, radio repairs, embroidery, tailoring and some handicrafts skills," Mohammad Naseem, an IOM official, told IRIN in Kandahar.
Officials at MORR said that the number of IDPs in Afghanistan fell sharply from 724,000 in December 2002 to 184,000 a year later. So far in 2004, only 17,000 IDPs have been assisted to return, leaving 167,000 people displaced in camps. The main areas of IDP concentration are in Zhare Dasht, Panjwai and other settlements in the south, Maslakh camp in the west, and a number of smaller camps in the north of the country.
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