Thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Afghanistan, mainly from the strife-torn southern provinces, have been heading for Kabul in the hope of finding work and a better life, but most end up living in appalling conditions in makeshift camps.
Besmillah (he goes by just the one name), 38, fled the southern province of Helmand with his five children and wife two years ago after a rocket landed in his compound.
“Because I was a poor farmer we didn’t have a lot of valuable stuff, but we couldn’t even bring our clothes with us,” Besmillah told IRIN.
He and his family now live in a mud-hut in a makeshift settlement in eastern Kabul. He has not been able to find work and the government has not provided him with shelter.
“This winter killed my three-year-old child as I couldn’t fix the holes in my hut and I wasn’t able to buy fuel or wood for a Bukhari [heater],” he said.
According to the Afghan Health Ministry, more than 20 children have frozen to death in these settlements over the past few weeks.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in its latest report said 2011 marked the fifth year in a row that civilian casualties had increased, with more than 3,000 civilian deaths in the ongoing conflict between Taliban and other insurgents and government forces backed by US-led foreign forces.
Many IDPs are attracted to Kabul by its relative safety and food availability, better access to health and education services, and perceived job opportunities.
However, Amnesty International (AI) says the government not only does not care about IDPs in the city but was also preventing aid from reaching them.
UN agencies and aid organizations are barred by the government from delivering effective aid to displaced communities or helping them in ways which imply the creation of permanent settlements: Instead of digging permanent wells, aid workers are forced to deliver water to displaced communities in tankers, said the AI report.
Islamuddin Jurat, a spokesman for the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation (MoRR), said the government had not stopped anyone from helping IDPs and would never do that, but building permanent health clinics or a school, or a water supply system, was not something the government wanted.
“If we build a permanent infrastructure for them, they will stay in that place for ever. But they can’t as every plot they have settled on right now belongs to a government ministry of an individual.” He said he did not want to encourage migrants to head to Kabul or become aid dependent, adding that it was “not possible to bring the whole population to Kabul”.
Conflict-induced displacement, limited reintegration opportunities for returning refugees, the rapid growth of cities and the proliferation of informal settlements constituted an enormously complex challenge for the government, humanitarian and development actors in Afghanistan. Finding durable solutions would not be easy, Nader Farhad, a spokesperson for UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), told IRIN.
However, Jurat said the government had plans to help IDPs settle outside Kabul: “We have drafted a plan to give IDPs shelter either in their own provinces or in any of the MoRR settlement areas in the other provinces around Kabul and we have sent the draft to the president for his approval.”
If the plan was signed off, he said, all IDPs in Kabul would be given shelter within a year.
UNCHR asks all stakeholders, including the government, to look for sustainable solutions for IDPs and develop a comprehensive and integrated developmental approach to tackle the problem of displacement in Afghanistan.