Afghanistan: Little help for civilians repeatedly displaced by conflict

News and Press Release
Originally published
LASHKARGAH, 28 October 2008 (IRIN) - Fighting between Taliban insurgents and Afghan government and international forces in Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan, has displaced Abdul Hadi's family four times in less than two years but he has received no help.

"Two years ago we abandoned our home in Nawzad District because of the war and moved to Garmsir [District]. This summer the conflict broke out in Garmsir and we sought refugee in Marja [District]. The war followed us into Marja and we moved to Bodam desert and from there we came to Lashkargah," Hadi told IRIN.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of families in volatile areas have experienced similar hardship over the past three years. At the same time the access of aid agencies has been restricted by insecurity.

"Those who have had to flee violence, intimidation and conflict across Afghanistan, and who are estimated to number in the tens of thousands, have not been properly profiled in terms of determining who they are, where they are from, and what their immediate protection and assistance needs are," Ingrid Macdonald, protection and advocacy manager of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Kabul, told IRIN.

New report

Currently there are about 235,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) officially recognised by a joint task group of aid agencies and the government. But this figure does not include people displaced by conflict since 2006, according to a 28 October report by the NRC's Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

Over one million people were internally displaced in 2002. Most of these have returned to their homes but 185,000 still live in camps in the south, west and southwest of the country, the report said.

The predominant understanding is that conflict displaces people for a short while and once a military operation is over, civilians return to their homes and resume a normal life, and thus there is no need for relief and protection services.

However, many displaced families and the IDMC report say the opposite.

"These internally displaced persons are believed to have urgent humanitarian and protection needs," said the report.

Abdul Hadi said repeated displacements had made his family destitute: "We have lost everything. we need everything - food, medicine, shelter, water, clothes and even matches to light a candle," he said.

Avoiding "pull factors"

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) ended its assistance to IDPs in the three main camps in Kandahar, Helmand and Herat provinces in March 2006, while aid to people displaced by conflict and disasters since 2007 has been delivered on an ad hoc basis.

The NRC said it was very concerned about the lack of attention being paid to IDP needs. The reluctance to assist IDPs has been driven by a desire to avoid "pull factors" that could encourage further displacement which, in turn, could create "an entrenched humanitarian crisis", NRC aid workers said.

The NRC supports the prevention of "pull factors", but says the critical needs of most IDPs must be addressed.

Coordinated strategy needed

The spread of the conflict into previously secure areas, natural disasters, food-insecurity and the deportation of Afghans from neighbouring countries are exacerbating the IDP situation.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has warned that hundreds of thousands of people could be internally displaced in northern areas largely due to food-insecurity.

"Given that displacement is occurring and in potentially such high numbers, Afghanistan urgently requires a coordinated response strategy - and plan between the Afghan authorities and international community - for meeting the immediate assistance and protection needs of conflict-affected IDPs," the NRC's Ingrid Macdonald told IRIN.

The NRC also suggests a re-profiling of IDPs to identify their needs and thus aid response planning.