Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Increasing hardship and limited support for growing displaced population

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Hundreds of thousands of people in Afghanistan have been internally displaced by armed conflict, ethnic tensions or human rights violations, natural disasters such as drought, or secondary dis-placement in the case of refugees and deportees who have returned from neighbouring countries.

An ongoing exercise by the Afghanistan IDP Task Force suggests that over 200,000 people are internally displaced in the country, and this estimate does not include most of those displaced by conflict between the government, international coalition forces and the armed opposition; it is composed primarily of a protracted caseload from before 2004. The conflict is estimated to have displaced tens of thousands of people every year since 2006, but their number has been impossi-ble to determine due to a lack of access to the conflict zones. These internally displaced persons (IDPs) are believed to have urgent humanitarian and protection needs which are not being met due to limited and increasingly restricted humanitarian access. It is unclear how many people experience multiple cycles of short-term displacement due to the conflict and whether those who return to areas of origin do so voluntarily or because they have no other alternatives.

Around 185,000 people, internally displaced before and just after the 2002 fall of the Taleban government, continue to live in camp-like settlements in the south, west and south-west. Many are reluctant to return to areas of origin due to the worsening security, ethnic tensions, and lack of opportunities to rebuild their lives there. Thousands of families are also believed to have been dis-placed by ongoing localised conflict. Meanwhile, there is anecdotal evidence that Afghanistan has seen rising levels of displacement due to food insecurity and a severe winter over 2007-2008.

Tens of thousands of Afghan refugees have been displaced again after returning to their areas of origin or have not been able to return to areas or origin. Some returnee families are living in squatter settlements in and around Afghan cities and towns. Landlessness remains a seri-ous obstacle to the reintegration of returnees.

Access to IDPs and other vulnerable groups remains limited as insecurity grows, and humanitar-ian workers are being increasingly attacked across much of Afghanistan. A major factor in the undermining of humanitarian space is the blurring of the identities and functions of military, po-litical, private sector and humanitarian actors. It is imperative that proper roles and responsibili-ties are respected, and that military and political actors and objectives do not encroach on the activities of humanitarian actors, in order to make it possible for aid agencies to reach the dis-placed and vulnerable people.