ISLAMABAD, 18 May (IRIN) - Over
the past year, Afghanistan has seen an unprecedented displacement of its
civilian population as a result of conflict, drought and prolonged economic
hardship. Since last June, over 800,000 Afghans have been displaced or
have become refugees in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran, adding to the existing
caseload of 2.2 million and 1.5 million refugees respectively.
An escalation in fighting has affected nearly half a million people in the central highlands region, prompting ongoing displacement to Kabul, Iran and Pakistan. A total of 60,000 people are thought to have left since June last year, 30,000 of whom left due to intensive fighting since January. Fear of further conflict and poor agricultural prospects have contributed to the exodus. It is estimated that 34,000 children are malnourished in the five most severely affected districts of the highlands.
There are an estimated 100,000 displaced Afghans in six camps near Herat. The mainly westward flow of displaced into the Herat camps has risen sharply from 75 families per day in January, to 300 families daily by the end of April. Despite the airlifting of supplies by the US, Norway and Japan, conditions remain cramped and unsanitary, raising concerns for summer epidemics. WFP maintains that most of the displaced families are arriving from remote areas that did not receive food aid. A further exodus is expected due to local insecurity, poor rainfall and the exhaustion of food reserves.
The ongoing civil war in the northeastern provinces (Takhar, Kunduz and Baghlan) between Taliban and Northern Alliance forces, coupled with insecurity and the severe effects of the drought in the northwestern provinces (Faryab, Jowzjan, Sar-i-Pul and Balkh) have displaced an estimated 100,000 people. As of 17 May, there were reports of fresh displacement from western drought-affected rural areas to Mazar-i-Sharif city. The escalation of fighting in the central province of Bamyan and sporadic exchanges between Taliban and opposition forces on the Pyandzh river has led to the fresh displacement of 1,000 and 1,500 families respectively.
The majority of those civilians affected by last year's fighting around Taloqan remain displaced. Continued fighting near Taloqan has prompted further displacement into the northern province of Takhar, bringing the total to 18,000 families, or 90,000 people. Impoverished by the conflict and prolonged drought, this displaced population is entirely dependent on international assistance. Recent inter-agency assessments have recorded a high level of mortality in under-10-year-olds from measles, malnutrition and acute respiratory infections. Food stocks are exhausted in some areas, and people have resorted to eating seed stock, spring grass and roots. Most displaced families were unable to plant crops this year and will require assistance until next winter. A further 10,000 people are isolated on islands in the Pyandzh river, caught between Taliban forces and the Tajik border.
Central (Kabul) region:
Accurate numbers of recently displaced are not known. However, several hundred families have arrived in Kabul since last June, following fighting in the northern province of Takhar and the central province of Bamyan. It is estimated that nearly half of the 1.8 million people currently living in Kabul have been displaced for over six years.
An estimated 23,000 families, mainly kochi(transhumant pastoralists), are displaced in the region, according to local UN sources. Some kochi families from the Registan desert are expected to migrate to their northern summer pasture lands, alleviating the pressure on local communities in and around Kandahar. It is estimated that 20 percent of the displaced kochi population may return to places of origin this season, with the remainder dependent on external aid as they restock their depleted herds. The UN has registered 60,000 displaced as recipients of relief assistance.
Some 200,000 new refugees have entered Pakistan since last June, of whom 174,500 are located in camps in the North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan. UNHCR estimate that 80,000 refugees are in the makeshift Jalozai camp, 60,000 refugees in Shamshatoo camp, and 16,500 in Akora Khattak camp. A further 18,000 people are living near the Baluchistan capital, Quetta. The remainder are thought to have settled in rural or urban areas without requesting international aid. This latest influx brings the total number of refugees in Pakistan to 2.2 million, with 1.2 million Afghans in long-term camps or rural areas, and 800,000 living in urban centres, such as Karachi and Lahore.
According to UNHCR, the Iranian government has reported that over 200,000 Afghans have sought refuge from conflict and drought in Iran since the start of this year. International monitoring indicates that 36,000 people have been deported back to Afghanistan by the authorities. There are 1.5 million Afghan refugees currently in Iran. This number is expected to increase once Iran completes the registration of all refugees this year.
SOURCE: Office of the United Nations Coordinator for Afghanistan; UNHCR Afghanistan/Pakistan.
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