Afghanistan has one of the world's largest populations in internal displacement, mainly due to the decades-long and ongoing conflict in the country.
Following the withdrawal of international troops in 2014, the country faced its worst security situation. This has not only raised poverty and unemployment in Afghanistan, but has also caused a remarkable increase in conflict-induced internal displacement from 196,000 in 2014 to 654,000 in 2016, according to UNOCHA.
Due to the lack of security, the poor economic and political environment, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have never been without challenges in Afghanistan. Many IDPs have been displaced several times and have become ever more vulnerable. To address the IDPs needs and protect their human rights, the long-awaited National Policy on IDPs was launched by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GoIRA) in 2014.
This article tries to identify and discuss the growing number and challenges of the IDPs in Afghanistan in the period since the policy launched.
Brief Overview of National Policy on IDPs
In Afghanistan, internal displacement is a longstanding phenomenon. However, its first National Policy on IDPs was launched in 2014.
The policy was prepared based on Afghanistan’s Constitution and the respect for the legitimate rights of IDPs as Afghan citizens in conformity with the international human rights, humanitarian law as well as the 1998 United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.
Therefore, according to the policy the rights of IDPs in Afghanistan are: protection of life; integrity; liberty and security; freedom of movement and residence; adequate housing and access to land in a suitable location; a livelihood; adequate standard of living (e.g. water, food and cloths); health care; protection of the family; education; freedom of expression and access to information; rights to property protection and compensation; and participatory rights, including rights to vote.
The key stakeholders for implementing the policy are Government institutions, the international community, civil society/NGOs, the IDPs and host communities.
The GoIRA has the principal responsibility to make sure the protection and assistance to IDPs throughout all three phases (preventing displacement, protecting and assisting during displacement, ending displacement/durable solutions) of displacement across Afghanistan.
Within the government institutions, the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation (MoRR) is the lead government line-ministry responsible for developing a policy implementation plan, and to bring into action the execution of the policy on IDPs with all key stakeholders.
The policy stakeholders are required to take all necessary steps to end displacement based on three durable solutions: volunteer return of IDPs to their place of origin safely and with dignity; integrate locally in the present areas of displacement; and resettlement of IDPs elsewhere inside the country.
The IDPs are free to choose any of the three options and can enjoy the same rights as other Afghan citizens. In theory, the policy is a comprehensive strategic tool towards improving the living conditions of the IDPs.
In practice, however, their lives have not improved. The Challenges facing the IDPs in the past over five years are growing. About 1.6 million individuals have been internally displaced by the conflict in Afghanistan. More than half of them are children and adolescents. As a result, they suffer more risks compared to adults when they are displaced from their home communities. More broadly, not only the children and adolescents but all the IDPs, including men and women are affected differently with respect to their needs, vulnerabilities and protection risks.
The IDPs have fled their homes and regions with nothing but their lives due to fighting from all sides - the Taliban, ISIS (also known as Daesh), the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and the international/U. S. military.
Today the main challenges facing the IDPs in Afghanistan include lack of: adequate shelter/housing, access to land, health and education facilities, food, sanitation, potable water, electricity, and employment opportunities.
The cited challenges have jeopardized the well-being and dignity of the affected IDPs.
For example: in the east of Afghanistan, the ANSF war against Taliban and ISIS backed by U.S air power, forced thousands of people to leave their homes, farms, and livestock.
When interviewed, IDPs said they had to leave everything in their villages, but untill now neither the Government of Afghanistan nor the international organization has provided them with adequate livelihoods. Consequently their our children are begging on the streets, washing cars for money and food to survive.
Masoom, the representative of IDPs from the southern, region explained that between 5000 and 6000 people from the southern region alone, are living in mud huts in the Qambar Square camp in Kabul. He stated that the humanitarian aid by the international organizations, that of the Government of Afghanistan and local foundations are not sufficient to provide their basic needs. Therefore, there have been no improvements in their situation in regards to access to shelter, health, education, and food since the last three years.
Raz Muhammad, a community leader from Chaman-e-Babrak IDPs settlement in Kabul pointed out to Amnesty International that: “Food is a luxury here, no one can afford it. We mostly live off bread or spoiled vegetables from the market.”
Another IDP stated: “I see no improvement. Our situation has gone from bad to worse. I feel like we are being forgotten, there is no attention paid to displaced people anymore.”
Many IDPs have informally settled in Afghanistan's major cities, especially in the capital, Kabul, in search for economic and other means of existence.
While living in the cities is not without challenges for IDPs because most of them are from the rural areas, hence, they are unused to the city life and unable to find employment other than farming.
This results in the displaced people not being able to ensure the basic survival of their families in the cities, including Kabul.
In an interview, the director of Media and Public Relation of MoRR admitted that there is no specific budget to create employment opportunities for IDPs.
Unemployment could encourage and give the opportunities to the insurgent groups to recruit among the IDPs, who are desperate to make ensure the basic survival of their families.
Among others, according to the policy, the IDPs have the rights to adequate shelter/housing too. Unexpectedly, neither the Government of Afghanistan nor the humanitarian community has built any single formal camp with all necessary services.
This is the reason for the IDPs having to live in informal settlements in tents or houses made of mud, with scant access to food, potable water, latrines, and other basic services. For example, recently a woman living with her daughter in Minarets camp in Herat province, told Amnesty International: “Even an animal would not live in this hut but we have to… I would prefer to be in prison rather than in this place, at least in prison I would not have to worry about food and shelter.”
Moreover, when interviewed, IDPs in Kabul complained that in every winter a number of infants, children, and old people die in the camps. The interviewees added that the government provides limited firewood for the heating purpose only one or twice during the winter, but that is not enough.
Promises were made by the top government officials to tackle the IDPs problems, but they remained mere words. For instance, the IDPs in Qambar Square explained that President Ashraf Ghani visited their camp in 2014 during his campaign for presidential elections. In his visit, he promised to prioritize land allocation and the issues of IDPs as a whole, but as yet no pragmatic measures have been taken to fulfill his promises.
In addition to the presence of aid organizations in Afghanistan, adequate development aid has not yet been sent into the IDPs camps and no formal settlements have been established for them.
One of the key reasons can be that the development of the camps would encourage the existing IDPs to remain the camps permanently or perhaps draw more conflict-affected people into the camps.
On the other hand, it was found that the majority of the IDPs would like to remain in their camps in Kabul, integrate locally and would not leave their camps under any circumstances even if they were to be killed.
When asked about the reasons, the IDPs said: “(1) we don't have the confidence to return to our home communities because of the unstable security situation; and (2) we have lost everything including our houses, therefore, we want land/adequate housing and other basic rights from international community and the Government of Afghanistan in Kabul.”
Why Have the IDPs Circumstances Not Improved Since the Policy Adoption?
Today, the challenges facing IDPs in Afghanistan show that their conditions have not improved since the launch of the policy in 2014. And they are living on the brink of survival. This fact was also admitted by the MoRR.
In a nutshell: The National Policy on IDPs, which has the government and international support, has failed to fulfill and protect the humanitarian rights of the IDPs.
There are several interrelated reasons which have caused failure of policy implementation. For example, the policy was launched in the same year in which Afghanistan was in a political turmoil due to the presidential elections result. Soon after, a new administration—the National Unity Government (NUG) was established. Therefore, due to the political and constitutional tensions within the NUG, the policy was not considered as a national priority.
At the end of the same year (2014) the international troops left Afghanistan. Subsequently, the security situation rapidly worsened in the country. To compound the situation, in 2016 about 600,000 Afghan refugees were forced to return from Pakistan. Adequate attention was therefore not given to the implementation of the policy on IDPs.
Other reasons for the failure of IDPs policy implementation include lack of political will of the government; generally weak administrative institutions; paralyzed by corruption; the lack of technical capacity and development budget within the government, especially within the MoRR and poor coordination between the key stakeholders.
The current conditions of the IDPs constitute a violation of human rights in Afghanistan within the presence of several national and international humanitarian organizations and the availability of National Policy on IDPs.
To protect the rights of IDPs or end displacement, the GoIRA with the support from the key stakeholders, should create favorable conditions to achieve durable solutions for IDPs before it becomes a major humanitarian crisis.
To do so:
• The NUG must make the implementation of IDP policy a national priority and share the policy with other responsible ministries/authorities and key international organizations so that they better know their role in the policy implementation.
• The international community/key international organizations (e.g. UNHCR, UNWFP, UNOCHA, International Committee of Red Cross, International Migration Organization, etc) should enhance the capacity of the relevant Afghan ministries/authorities, particularly the MoRR, and provide them enough development/humanitarian aid and necessary expertise.
• The international community and the Government of Afghanistan should further beef up their efforts to bring peace and security across the country. This will not only stop people to further displace but would also give confidence to the present conflict-induced IDPs to return voluntarily and safely to their areas of origin.
Sayed Nasrat is a former researcher at the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development of Afghanistan, and Integrity Watch Afghanistan. He can be reached at [email protected]
Abdul Tamim Karimi is a Macro Fiscal Performance Analyst at the Ministry of Finance of Afghanistan. He can be reached at [email protected]