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Internally Displaced Afghans Pose Major Crisis For New Taliban Government

Internally displaced Afghan families who fled fighting between the Taliban and government forces sit in front of their tents in Kabul on August 11.

As the Taliban launches its caretaker government in Afghanistan, one immediate challenge it faces is providing food and other supplies for some 3.5 million internally displaced people.

This year alone, nearly 500,000 Afghans have fled their homes due to conflict as well as severe drought, according to the UN's refugee agency, the UNHCR.

Many families poured into Kabul from provinces in the summer, trying to flee the rapidly advancing Taliban and are now stranded in the capital and other big cities.

They live in makeshift tents in parks, in public buildings, and temporary housing provided by the pro-Western Afghan government that fell to the Taliban on August 15. Some of the internally displaced say they're staying with relatives or in rented houses they won't be able to afford or live in for long.

The problem adds to the wider humanitarian crisis in the war-ravaged country, where according to UN figures some 18 million people -- half of the population -- need humanitarian assistance to survive.

Many international and domestic aid groups have halted their work in Afghanistan and vital foreign aid has diminished since the government of President Ashraf Ghani collapsed amid a furious Taliban sweep of the country.

The United Nations, which is maintaining its operations in Afghanistan with reduced staff, is urging the international community to continue its support for the Afghan people. The UNHCR says it has provided assistance to 240,000 displaced people in Afghanistan this year, but millions more are in urgent need of help.

No Home To Return To

Mohammad Zahir and his family of seven have lived in a makeshift tent in a park in Kabul's Shahr-e Naw neighborhood since fleeing their home province of Faryab in the country's north several weeks ago.

Zahir, 45, says his family home in the outskirts of Maimana was destroyed during clashes between government forces and Taliban fighters, who overran the city on August 14 after a monthlong siege.

"We lost our house and had nowhere else to go, so we fled to Kabul," Zahir says. His 13-year-old daughter, Aliya, complains she is unable to attend school.

Like many other displaced people in Shahr-e Naw, Zahir's family does not have enough food, water, or other basic necessities. Some of the displaced families don't even have tents but have instead put carpets on the ground and hang cloths, old blankets, or canvas on trees and other objects to block the scorching sun.

Some of the displaced families have returned to their home provinces, only to find they have nowhere to go, and return to Kabul.
Some of the displaced families have returned to their home provinces, only to find they have nowhere to go, and return to Kabul.

There are usually no proper toilets or sanitation facilities available and several people told RFE/RL they were in a dire need of medicine, including some that they need to take regularly for chronic diseases.

Those that fled depended for months on food deliveries by the agencies run by the since-ousted government, various charity groups, and handouts from Kabul residents. But much of that aid stopped after Kabul fell to the Taliban.

Several families in Shahr-e Naw told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi that they returned to their home provinces after August 15, but have since come back to Kabul because their houses were destroyed and they had no food. "We don't have a home to return to and we don't have food," says a 20-year-old student from Balkh who didn't want to give her name.

The young woman and her parents arrived in Kabul just two days before Ghani fled ahead of the Taliban advance. "We thought we would be safe in Kabul and Ghani's government would take care of us," she told RFE/RL. "Now that the Taliban became the government, it's their responsibility to solve people's problems."

People fear their situation will get worse if they are not provided with adequate shelter before winter.

Displaced familiessit under tents in the courtyard of the Wazir Akbar Khan Mosque in Kabul.
Displaced familiessit under tents in the courtyard of the Wazir Akbar Khan Mosque in Kabul.

In the city of Firozkoh, the capital of Ghor Province, Bibi Asma is demanding that the Taliban-led government address the needs of the thousands of people who lost their homes and livelihoods to recent armed clashes in her home region.

Asma says she had been pleading with previous Afghan authorities for humanitarian assistance but that "nobody helped" her. Asma and several others in Firozkoh claim that some of the previous government officials stole the humanitarian aid sent from Kabul for the internally displaced people before the government collapsed.

"A lot of humanitarian aid, such as wheat, rice, and other stuff was donated by foreign agencies, but some [former] officials took that aid home and gave it to their relatives," Javid Hosseini, 34, said, without giving further details.

Radio Azadi sent inquiries to Taliban spokesmen asking about any plans the group has for addressing the internal displacement crisis but received no response as of September 8.

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the region’s ongoing struggle with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.


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    RFE/RL's Radio Azadi

    RFE/RL's Radio Azadi is one of the most popular and trusted media outlets in Afghanistan. Nearly half of the country's adult audience accesses Azadi's reporting on a weekly basis.