Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Thousands of IDPs still need aid

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LASHKARGAH, 13 May 2007 (IRIN) - A year after the United Nations and the government of Afghanistan ended relief operations in the Mukhtar camp for internally displaced people (IDPs), the majority of its inhabitants still endure many hardships, according to camp residents and specialists.

Since 2002, more than 20,000 displaced people have been living in tents and mud huts in Mukhtar camp, 5km north of Lashkargah, the capital of the volatile southern province of Helmand.

Camp residents interviewed by IRIN complained about poverty and inadequate medical and educational facilities in the camp.

"No one helps us here. Our patients suffer a variety of diseases in the absence of medical services. Our children are deprived of education because there is no school at our camp. There is no work we can do to support our families," camp resident Faez Mohammad said.

A middle-aged widow living in the camp who spoke on condition of anonymity said, "My children and I have no other option but to beg on the streets of Lashkargah."

Humanitarian aid delivery was brought to an end in Mukhtar camp in mid-2006 to encourage displaced people to return to their home areas and conclude a protracted relief effort, Afghan and UN officials say.

"I think there is a drastic improvement in the overall situation in the country which allows all IDPs to return to their respective original provinces," said Shojauddin Shoja, an advisor to the Ministry of Refugees, Returnees and IDPs (MRRI).

Impossible to provide relief indefinitely

According to Shoja, it is impossible to run a complex humanitarian operation indefinitely.

"People should understand that they cannot receive relief for good. They should start building their respective lives and should be able to assume their own responsibilities," said Shoja.

About 2,000 families have left Mukhtar camp since the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) ended its operations there in 2006, while some 5,000 families still live in the camp, said Ahmad Nadir Farhad, a UNHCR spokesman in Kabul.

Immediately after the collapse of the Taliban in late 2001, more than one million Afghans were displaced to many parts of Afghanistan, UNHCR said.

"From over one million IDPs in 2002, we have now less than 160,000," said Salvatore Lombardo, UNHCR country director.

"It is due to our sound policies that more than 800,000 former IDPs have now returned home. It was our plan to have no IDPs in 2007," added Shoja of MRRI.

Vulnerable IDPs need support

Sataar Muzahari, director of the department for refugees and IDP affairs in Helmand, criticised the UN and Afghan government's decision to end humanitarian aid delivery to vulnerable families at Mukhtar camp.

"There are widows, disabled and many other vulnerable people who do not have any means to support themselves. The end of assistance has virtually caused a complex humanitarian crisis among many hapless IDPs in the camp," Muzahari said.

Standing in a long queue carrying a two-bucket yoke on his thin shoulders, nine-year-old Almaas collects water for his family four times a day from a pump in the camp.

"It takes me several hours every day to collect water for drinking, washing, cooking and all other purposes for my family," Almaas said.

In addition to the vulnerability of the young, sick and old in the camp are able-bodied men who fear returning to their places of origin or say they have nothing left to go back to.

"All our properties have been plundered by militias belonging to rival ethnic groups in Faryab province," said Wali Mohammad, an IDP in the camp. "Therefore, we have nowhere to return."

Another IDP said he would be killed because of his ethnicity if he returned to his native province.

"Because I am a Pashtoon, Uzbek militias will accuse me of collaboration with the Taliban. It is very easy for them to kill, torture and detain Pashtoons under meaningless pretexts," said Shah Alaam, an IDP from northern Jozjan province.

Farmer Bashir Ahmad said it is unfeasible for his six-member family to return to their village in Faryab province because of an extended drought there.

"Where there is no water to drink, how can farmers like us, who are dependent on agriculture, continue their life?" asked Ahmad.

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