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Afghan human rights survey shows hope in the face of hardship


Afghan human rights survey shows hope in the face of hardship

For the many millions of refugees who have returned home to Afghanistan, job opportunities, housing and access to safe drinking water - not security - rank top on their list of concerns according to a new survey published today. And despite the hardships and uncertainty, the vast majority of people are glad they came home.
1 May 2006
Forty per cent of respondents said their children did not attend primary school. Many cited poverty as the reason. Nearly one in five families who responded to the survey said that most or all of their children work.

KABUL, Afghanistan, May 1 (UNHCR) - Improved job opportunities, housing, and access to safe drinking water were listed as the top priorities for the future by the majority of former refugees and former internally displaced people in a survey into social and economic conditions in Afghanistan published today.

Even though certain parts of the country are still troubled by insecurity, only 4 percent of respondents cited security as a priority concern.

The study, which builds a comprehensive picture of the situation faced by returning refugees, was conducted by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission with assistance from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. The areas covered in the study included sources of income, access to shelter, water and sanitation, education and the prevalence of child labour.

Home and land ownership proved to be widespread, with fewer than 10 percent of respondents saying they did not own a house or land. But housing and the repair of housing was a key issue, with 40 percent saying their house had been damaged or destroyed or that they lacked sufficient space.

Nearly a third of those interviewed identified farm labour as their primary source of income. More than 60 percent of households said they were in debt.

Half of all interviewees did not have access to safe drinking water, while over a third used a water source that is shared with animals or is considered unhealthy.

While the results of the report may appear to paint a discouraging picture, around 80 percent of those surveyed said they were optimistic about the future, while 83 per cent of returnees were happy to have returned to Afghanistan.

During the period between April and December 2005, a total of 7,929 interviews were conducted in 29 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces. Just under 75 percent of the interviewees were returnees - either former refugees or former displaced people.

Questions about primary education revealed that although people reported it was generally available in their area, more than 40 percent said their children were not attending school. Poverty was cited as the main reason for this. The study found that almost half of all those interviewed had at least one working child in the family. Nearly 20 percent said that most or all of their children work.

A gender difference also emerged in the reasons as to why children were not sent to school. Work was the reason which tended to be given for boys, whereas for girls it was the distance to the school and concerns about security.

Health-care facilities were available to more than 75 percent of respondents. But despite the widespread availability, more than a third of those interviewed said they did not use the facilities, mostly for reasons of accessibility.

The benchmark for the survey was the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which Afghanistan ratified in 1983.

It was originally designed to provide an assessment of the Afghan government's ability to protect the social and economic rights of its citizens. But with a high number of former refugees and internally displaced people among those interviewed, the findings have also provided a valuable insight into the current circumstances of returnees.

"It is a unique report which illustrates to Afghans that human rights are not something far-fetched, but very relevant and tangible in their everyday lives," said Nader Naderi, Commissioner of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).

Based on its findings, AIHRC is calling on the Afghan government to pay attention to the situation of vulnerable groups during the design and implementation of the National Development Strategy.

AIHRC is also urging the government to take all necessary steps to build a better understanding of the poorest groups in Afghanistan and ensure that the impact of poverty reduction strategies on these groups is closely monitored.

By Tim Irwin and Nader Farhad in Kabul, Afghanistan