Number of displaced Afghans could surge if conflict continues, warns UN expert
A United Nations envoy warned today that the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Afghanistan could rise significantly if the conflict there continues at the current rate, adding to the multitude of Afghans that have already fled their homes.
“There is potential for a significant increase in the number of internally displaced persons if the conflict continues at the present pace, and if returning refugees are unable to find durable solutions by returning to their homes or settling and integrating elsewhere,” said Ban Ki-moon’s Representative for the Human Rights of IDPs, Walter Kaelin, after a weeklong visit to Afghanistan.
Mr. Kaelin condemned the Taliban’s “systematic disregard” for international humanitarian law, exposing civilian populations to high risks. At the same time, he stressed that counter-insurgency operations must avoid causing civilian casualties.
He noted that armed conflict in Afghanistan is not only causing large numbers of civilian deaths, but also has trigged the displacement of tens of thousands of persons in the last year alone.
“As a consequence, people lose their houses, livelihoods are destroyed, displaced children are deprived of their education, and families end up in misery,” stated Mr. Kaelin, who participated in a UN workshop on the protection of civilians during his visit.
In addition to addressing the immediate humanitarian needs of the IDPs, he stressed that more must be done to prevent displacement and to protect and assist the displaced. “To facilitate durable solutions, the human rights of IDPs to physical security, to shelter and livelihoods must be respected,” he said, adding that resolving land disputes was also a major concern.
Those fleeing the present fighting are adding to the 130,000 IDPs in the country’s south and south-west who are still living in temporary camps since they were displaced by drought and insecurity five or more years ago. There are also an unknown number of people displaced by human rights violations, inter-communal tensions or floods and other natural disasters.
In addition, Mr. Kaelin warns of a real risk that refugees returning from neighbouring countries who are unable to return to their places of origin or find another solution may end up among the internally displaced without adequate shelter and access to livelihoods.
He encouraged the Afghan Government and its neighbours to continue a voluntary and gradual approach to the return of the approximately three million Afghan nationals who remain in neighbouring countries, emphasizing that any joint plan of return must be based on a realistic assessment of Afghanistan’s capacity to absorb the returnees, to ensure that their basic needs for food, shelter and livelihoods are met, and to support long-term solutions.
He also voiced hope that the Government and its partners would prepare a comprehensive survey on displacement in Afghanistan, the different categories of IDPs and their main needs, as well as a strategy to address the phenomenon.