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Joint Press Release: Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation and UNHCR: First national IDP report reveals complex challenges for internally displaced

Crisis in Afghanistan, 15 December 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan, December 15 Of the more than 1.2 million people uprooted within Afghanistan by conflict, communal tensions, and natural disasters in the last decade, more than an estimated 235,000 are currently in displacement according to the first-ever nationwide profiling of internally displaced people (IDPs). The just-released report suggests ways to resolve the protracted IDP situation and urges concerned parties to anticipate potential further displacement.

The profiling was conducted based on a recommendation of Walter Kaelin, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the Human Rights of IDPs, who visited Afghanistan in August 2007. The report pulls together surveys done in different regions of the country by the UN refugee agency's offices, the provincial Departments of Refugees and Repatriation (DoRR) and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). The data is valid as of August 2008. The report was endorsed last month by the National IDP Task Force.

"This report gives us a better idea of how many Afghans are internally displaced, where, why, and what their needs are," said Ewen Macleod, UNHCR's Representative in Kabul. "The ultimate goal is to help the government develop an integrated and comprehensive national IDP strategy for durable solutions and to assist the humanitarian community to respond more effectively to the IDPs' assistance and protection needs."

The profiling exercise identified 235,833 IDPs throughout Afghanistan. The bulk of this population comprises a protracted caseload of 166,153 individuals displaced as a result of conflict in the period prior to and after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, or as a result of drought in the 1990s which severely affected Kuchis (nomads) in the south, west and north. These IDPs are largely living in camp-like settlements in the south (119,958), west (29,690) and south-east (12,341).

In addition, since 2005 there are 52,422 returnees from Pakistan who upon their return to Afghanistan became IDPs because they are unable to return to their places of origin for security reasons, landlessness, or lack of basic services or work opportunities. They have largely settled in spontaneous camps in the eastern region.

Other IDP categories include Afghans who have fled their homes in recent years due to conflict (ethnic or tribal), insecurity and human rights violations.

The numbers reported are estimates and not firm figures. The statistics also do not include two groups Afghans affected by fighting between the government/international forces and anti-government elements; and those uprooted by the continuing drought and poverty. The number of battle-affected Afghans is hard to determine because most are short-term IDPs who return home once the fighting ends, and because the insecurity in those areas makes access and verification very difficult. There are also many Afghans forced to leave their villages for the cities or neighbouring countries as a traditional coping mechanism or because of drought. As such it is often hard to differentiate between displacement and economic migration.

"What the profiling makes clear is that Afghanistan's internal displacement situation is highly complex. Movements have occurred at different times, in different parts of the country, and for different reasons," said Macleod. "Thus finding solutions will neither be easy nor quick."

This year over 600 families drive from the Northern provinces by ethnic conflict in 2001-2002 were assisted to return voluntarily to their original villages from an IDP settlement in Kandahar province. But many prefer to remain where they are. One recommendation is therefore to focus on resolving the protracted IDP situation through local integration, namely getting assurances from the authorities that the IDPs will not be evicted, giving them documentation and improving the infrastructure where they live. Another approach has been to prevent displacement of communities affected by drought and the food crisis by providing food and water in their places of origin.

However, the report concludes that under current circumstances internal displacement is likely to continue, if not grow, given continuing insecurity, drought conditions, conflict over scarce resources, and poverty. It called on the IDP Task Force and other coordination mechanisms to closely monitor new and potential displacements, and to develop contingency plans accordingly.

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Rebuilding Lives in Afghanistan

With elections scheduled in October, 2004 is a crucial year for the future of Afghanistan, and Afghans are returning to their homeland in record numbers. In the first seven months of 2004 alone, more than half a million returned from exile. In all, more than 3.6 million Afghans have returned since UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme started in 2002.

The UN refugee agency and its partner organisations are working hard to help the returnees rebuild their lives in Afghanistan. Returnees receive a grant to cover basic needs, as well as access to medical facilities, immunisations and landmine awareness training.

UNHCR's housing programme provides tool kits and building supplies for families to build new homes where old ones have been destroyed. The agency also supports the rehabilitation of public buildings as well as programmes to rehabilitate the water supply, vocational training and cash-for-work projects.

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Return is only the first step on Afghanistan's long road to recovery. UNHCR is helping returnees settle back home with repatriation packages, shelter kits, mine-awareness training and vaccination against diseases. Slowly but surely, Afghans across the land are reuniting with loved ones, reconstructing homes, going back to school and resuming work. A new phase in their lives has begun.

Watch the process of return, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction unfold in Afghanistan through this gallery.

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Although landless returnees are eligible for the Afghan government's land allocation scheme, demand far outstrips supply. By the end of 2007, the authorities were developing 14 settlements countrywide. Nearly 300,000 returnee families had applied for land, out of which 61,000 had been selected and 3,400 families had actually moved into the settlements.

Desperate returnees sometimes have to camp in open areas or squat in abandoned buildings. Others occupy disputed land where aid agencies are not allowed to build permanent structures such as wells or schools.

One resilient community planted itself in a desert area called Tangi in eastern Afghanistan. With help from the Afghan private sector and the international community, water, homes, mosques and other facilities have sprouted – proof that the right investment and commitment can turn barren land into the good earth.

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