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Amnesty International: Afghan IDP Problem Grows Despite Government Promises

At the Minaret camp in Herat city, IDPs fetch water from the only existing water pump in the camp, which was built in the early 1990s.
At the Minaret camp in Herat city, IDPs fetch water from the only existing water pump in the camp, which was built in the early 1990s.

The number of Afghans forced to flee conflict and relocate inside their own country has more than doubled in the past three years, to 1.2 million people, according to Amnesty International.

The London-based rights group says in its latest report that the figures, when combined with the 2.6 million Afghans living as refugees abroad, means that "almost every family in Afghanistan has experienced being driven from their homes at some point" over the past 40 years.

The report, My Children Will Die This Winter: Afghanistan's Broken Promise To The Displaced, found that internally displaced people (IDPs) in Afghanistan suffer from a lack of suitable shelter, severe food and water shortages, almost nonexistent health care, and virtually no opportunities for education or employment.

"While the world's attention seems to have moved on from Afghanistan, we risk forgetting the plight of those left behind by the conflict," Champa Patel, South Asia director at Amnesty International, said ahead of the report's publication.

The last several years have seen an increasingly unstable security situation in Afghanistan, especially after international troops departed at the end of 2014. The departure left Afghan security forces in charge of fighting a resurgent Taliban.

Many of the civilians caught up in the ensuing violence have fled, often settling in displacement camps within their own country.

Speaking about 2016 alone, Amnesty South Asia researcher Olof Blomqvist says that "we're talking about almost 1,000 people every day."

Ministry 'Incompetent, Corrupt'

The report is based on interviews with more than 100 displaced individuals in camps and settlements in Herat, Kabul, and Mazar-e Sharif.

It says that the situation in IDP camps is nothing short of desperate, and it has been worsening since the beginning of the year because of the influx of displaced people.

"It's really people who have been forced away from their homes by one horrific situation that have ended up in another situation that is just as horrific because there is no one there to protect them or to protect their human rights or to provide enough aid as they need," Blomqvist says.

The Chaman-e Babrak settlement in Kabul
The Chaman-e Babrak settlement in Kabul

Amnesty notes that the plight of displaced Afghans has worsened despite pledges by successive Afghan governments to remedy the situation and the development of a new policy to deal with displaced persons.

The Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation is singled out for criticism, with Amnesty saying the body has been confronted with accusations ranging from widespread corruption to sheer incompetence.

"It needs resources and it needs quality personnel, it needs expertise to implement the policy, but because of its history of very serious corruption allegations many people, both in the Afghan government and among international actors, are quite hesitant actually to provide these resources to the ministry," Blomqvist tells RFE/RL.

'Poorest Of The Poor'

Besides living in mud huts or tarpaulin tents, with no water or sanitation, many displaced persons are under threat of forced eviction.

"They [IDPs] face pretty frequent harassment from both the government and private actors -- the so-called land mafia -- who usually are a mix of certain local strongmen and warlords," Blomqvist says.

In one incident, two people were killed last year in a protest when armed men came to bulldoze the Chaman-e Babrak IDP camp in Kabul. No investigation was carried out and no one has been held to account.

Amid a rise in anti-immigration stances in Europe amid an ongoing refugee crisis, some have pointed to the fact that Afghans, unlike Syrians or Iraqis, come from a country that was "pacified" by Western troops and aid.

However, Amnesty's Blomqvist warns that this is "a very dangerous narrative being propagated in the West, in all NATO countries, that the Afghan war has been a success, that NATO and international troops are leaving behind a peaceful, well-functioning country, which, obviously, couldn't be further from the truth."

He warns that, in the short term, "most likely we're going to see the conflict expanding."

Amnesty's report concludes that key international players have to do more to "ensure that the human rights of those displaced are met, and lend more weight, expertise, and resources to the implementation of [Afghanistan's] IDP policy."

Blomqvist also says that, unlike many Afghan migrants abroad, internally displaced persons in Afghanistan "don't have the means to pack up and leave the country, they don't have the means to pay smugglers to take them somewhere else, but [they're] really like the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable of the most vulnerable."