UN agency concerned at lack of access to thousands of Afghans displaced by conflict

UN agency concerned at lack of access to thousands of Afghans displaced by conflict

Afghans returning home
The United Nations refugee agency today expressed concern at the recent displacement of Afghans due to the ongoing conflict in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, where nearly 5,000 families have been driven from their homes.

“Under the current security situation, access by UN agencies and our partners remains limited,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva.

Despite this the agency has been working in recent weeks with the Afghan government, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and other UN agencies to help the nearly 5,000 families in Helmand province.

UNHCR, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have provided food and relief items such as tents, plastic sheets, blankets, hurricane lanterns, soap, family kits and warm clothes to 1,600 battle-affected families from Musa Qala district and are trying to reach another 3,200 families from Kajaki district, where intense fighting had been reported.

“All actors are working together to create a more effective mechanism to find out the exact number of people displaced by the ongoing conflict in the south and the amount of assistance they need,” Ms. Pagonis said.

Insecurity and lack of access in the south are also affecting UNHCR efforts to aid some 112,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) uprooted by previous conflicts and drought before 2002. Access to health and other basic services has been drastically reduced since the beginning of the insurgency.

Since 2002, over half a million IDPs have received UNHCR assistance to return home while another 450,000 have gone back on their own. This year will be the last year of assisted IDP returns. UNHCR plans to help some 2,500 families, or 15,000 people, to return to their home areas.

As part of its overall approach to solutions, UNHCR is currently discussing with the authorities in Kandahar and elsewhere how those IDPs who may have not returned by the end of 2007 can be integrated where they are.