UNHCR concerned about rising insecurity in northern and central Afghanistan
GENEVA, July 2 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency today expressed grave concern over escalating violence, including attacks on ethnic minorities, in parts of northern and central Afghanistan, saying the precarious security situation was hampering refugee returns and causing new displacements.
"We are urging the authorities to protect the security and safety of the civilian populations," said UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski, welcoming the fact that Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai had sent a special delegation to northern Afghanistan on Monday to address the problem of ethnic minorities.
Attacks against ethnic minorities and factional fighting have been reported in Faryab, Sar-i-Pul and Balkh provinces, resulting in fatalities and destruction of property. In Sar-i-Pul province's Kohistanat district, for example, houses were burned and people were displaced on June 25 as a result of fighting between two militias. There has also been an upsurge in criminal activities, including robberies, rapes and murders.
"Due to the precarious security situation, we have stopped assisting displaced people to return from Herat to Faryab and Samangan provinces, as well as to the Sar-i-Pul and Sholgara districts in Balkh province," said Janowski.
In the second week of June, on the Herat-Mazar road, bandits shot and killed the owner and wounded the driver of a truck carrying Afghan returnees from Iran. The attackers then looted the belongings of the returnees. During the same week, two vehicles carrying nine returnees from Iran were attacked and robbed by unknown gunmen in Badghis province, to the south of Faryab.
In the central province of Bamiyan, security is also deteriorating in the districts of Kahmard and Shaighan. Last week, a number of civilians were killed when intense fighting broke out in Kahmard district. The situation is extremely volatile, with reports of people fleeing to Shaighan district, as well as incidents of human rights violations, including killings, in several villages in Kahmard district. These include Kakhul, Palenbagh, Dudaru and Khuhisan.
UNHCR is strengthening its presence in the northern and central parts of the country, with protection staff in five separate locations and on standby to return to a sixth location once the security situation permits.
A total of 1,137,000 Afghan refugees have returned with UNHCR's help since the beginning of March, including some 88,000 from Iran and 1,038,000 from Pakistan.