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Expert Opinion

Solutions needed for Afghanistan’s displaced as international attention wanes

Arriving at the ambitiously named ‘Kandahar International Airport,’ I felt apprehensive as we picked up our armoured vehicle and began our half hour drive into the city centre. This is my first visit to Kandahar since 2009 when I worked with the UN researching the growing number of civilians casualties caused by Afghanistan’s escalating armed conflict.

Colleagues reassured me that the number of security incidents in Kandahar had fallen significantly over the last year or so.  There are few international combat operations taking place in the province these days, as foreign troops prepare to hand over responsibility for security to Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) across the country by the end of 2014.

A transition in security has not been reflected by a transition to stability

Last month, UN human rights monitors reported that 2012 saw a drop in the number of Afghan civilians killed and injured by the conflict, the first such decrease in five years.

Look a little closer though, and the fall in civilian deaths hides a different reality. According to the UN, there were 7,559 civilians killed and injured last year, as well as a nine per cent increase civilians unlawfully targeted and killed by armed opposition groups. While combat operations by international forces have dwindled, the indiscriminate use of improved explosive devices (IEDs) and a proliferation of pro- and anti-government armed groups mean thousands of families are threatened by pervasive conflict-related violence and human rights abuses.

Few provinces in Afghanistan are unaffected by displacement, though comprehensive figures don’t exist

According to Afghanistan’s National IDP Task Force, the number of people displaced by conflict inside the country was roughly half a million at the end of 2012. Difficulties profiling IDPs mean these figures are widely acknowledged as a gross under-estimate. During my visit, Afghanistan’s Deputy Minister for Refugees and Repatriation (MoRR) publicly conceded the true number of IDPs to be closer to 1.3 million. This would mean internal displacement is higher than at any time since the US intervention and ouster of the Taliban in 2002.

A growing number of IDPs have joined the tens of thousands of Afghan families now living in urban slums. In Kandahar, I had the opportunity to hear from IDPs who fled to city late last year from the north-western provinces of Ghormach and Badghis. Others IDPs said they had been displaced for several years and originally came from districts within Kandahar province itself. As in other parts of the country, nearly all complain of insufficient government assistance, inadequate shelter, unemployment, and, above all, lack of access to land to farm and live on. Many have lost family members during the conflict or seen their homes and livelihoods damaged or destroyed.

While some IDPs may wish to return home once they feel safe to do so, our research has found that roughly three quarters now wish to settle in the places where they have sought refuge.

Hope for an IDP policy in Afghanistan in 2013

Following years of inaction by national authorities, in early 2012 the government announced plans to develop a comprehensive national policy on internal displacement. Such a policy, once adopted and implemented, could help to prevent further displacement and find permanent solutions for Afghanistan’s IDPs.  In a country where the dynamics of displacement vary considerably by region, success will largely hinge on whether the policy offers concrete and time-bound solutions that reflect local realities.

With a first draft now complete, provincial consultations on the policy’s scope and content are underway in Kandahar and in four other provinces. Monitoring the policy process and advocating for the swift adoption of Afghanistan’s first national IDP policy will be an important part of IDMC’s work in 2013.

No one knows what the future will hold when foreign troops return home, not to mention what the outcome of upcoming presidential elections, also slated for 2014, will be. One thing is certain though: as the country’s displacement crisis looks set to continue, if not worsen, a comprehensive response for IDPs is required more urgently than ever.

Learn more about displacement in Afghanistan.

For more information about displacement in Afghanistan, read IDMC’s latest report, ‘Afghanistan: Comprehensive response urgently required as displacement crisis worsens.’