AFGHANISTAN: Northern returnees need aid
Some IDPs have resisted the option of voluntary return and have continued to live in camps without any assistance
SHEBERGHAN, 29 October 2009 (IRIN) - Several thousand people returning to their homes in the northern Afghan provinces of Sar-i-Pul and Jowzjan need help before winter, according to aid agencies and local officials.
Aid agencies say most are returnees from Iran and from a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in southern Afghanistan.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said it had set up a tented camp in an arid area in Sozma Qala District, Sar-i-Pul Province, to accommodate hundreds of returnees from Iran. Some aid had been distributed to them, it said.
About 300 families had returned to Jowzjan Province from Zhari IDP camp in Kandahar Province, provincial governor Mohammad Hashim Zaray told IRIN.
“Some people have gone to their homes but some have set up tents and temporary settlements in the outskirts of Sheberghan [capital of Jowzjan Province] and other areas,” said Zaray, adding that insecurity, land disputes and lack of jobs were the main problems facing returnees.
Intensifying insurgency-related violence, the lack of aid and difficult living conditions forced over 2,000 IDP households in Zhari camp to sign up for a UNHCR-assisted voluntary return programme in 2009, according to relevant officials in Kandahar.
“About 850 families have left the camp so far this year but hundreds of families still live in Zhari,” Mohammad Azam Nawabi, director of the refugees department in Kandahar, told IRIN.
As winter approaches, the need for decent shelter is becoming more important. “Our children will die from cold,” said one man outside his tent in Sar-i-Pul Province.
“This winter will devastate my family because we have no home, no warm clothes, no food and nothing to resist the cold,” said another man.
Central and northern parts of Afghanistan normally get snow in early November.
Aurvasi Patel, head of UNHCR's office in the northern province of Balkh, said efforts were under way to assist 5,000 families in the north and northeast of the country before winter.
She said the aid for returnees would include food and non-food items such as warm clothes and charcoal - supported by UNHCR, the UN World Food Programme and the UN Children’s Fund.
UNHCR has earmarked US$14 million for its shelter programme in 2009: Some 10,000 returnee families will be given help to rebuild their houses in different parts of the country.
Hundreds of thousands of people - mostly ethnic Pashtuns - fled their homes in the north and sought refuge in IDP camps in the south of the country in 2001-2002 because of insecurity and ethnic tensions.
UN agencies delivered basic aid to about one million IDPs for a while but ended its operation in March 2006 in a bid to encourage people to return to their home areas.
Over five million Afghan refugees have returned to Afghanistan - mostly from Pakistan and Iran - over the past eight years, according to UNHCR.
Hundreds of thousands of IDPs have also returned to their original homes in the past four years, it said.