Six months ago, the Taliban came to Hossein’s house with a demand. If his son, a national police officer, didn’t quit his job, there would be consequences.
So Hossein, a stocky man in his 50s who goes by one name, fled the Uzbin valley in Kabul province with his family of 19, settling in a camp for displaced people in the capital, Kabul. Through winter, in their mud shack with a leaking roof, the children huddled in a corner to keep warm. Unlike two of the neighbour’s children, they survived.
“Only God knows how long we will be here,” Hossein said. If his neighbours – about 120 families – were anything to go by, that could be a while. Some had been there for 11 years.
The number of internally displaced Afghans is growing fast. In three years, it has more than doubled to 1.2 million, according to an released on Tuesday.
“Even after fleeing their homes to seek safety, increasing numbers of Afghans are languishing in appalling conditions in their own country, and fighting for their survival with no end in sight,” said Amnesty’s south Asia director, Champa Patel.
A squalid camp in Taimani project, less than 10 minutes’ drive from downtown Kabul’s shopping centres and glitzy eateries, is already extremely hot in May. Gusts of wind send dust and light rubbish whirling in the air, enveloping children lugging water from the nearest source, which is several hundred metres away.
In the report, Amnesty says: “Despite the promises made by successive Afghan governments, internally displaced people (IDPs) in continue to lack adequate shelter, food, water, healthcare and opportunities to pursue education and employment.”
At the core of the crisis is the lack of a political strategy for integrating Afghanistan’s displaced people into broader society. A long-awaited policy was launched in 2014, but has not been implemented, though president Ashraf Ghani has called assisting IDP’s “ of his government.
According to Amnesty, the failure to carry out the policy is due to corruption, poor government capacity and dwindling international focus. If implemented, the policy would grant displaced Afghans constitutional rights – which they now lack – to education, housing, water, healthcare and voting.
“If the policy could be implemented in scope, it would solve many of the problems,” said Dominic Parker, Afghanistan chief of the UN’s humanitarian agency, Ocha. Through land deeds, families could access bank credit and live without fear of eviction. “Access to building a life, really,” said Parker.
Another obstacle to assisting IDPs has been the wavering international attention and funding. Nassim Majidi, director of thinktank Samuel Hall, said the failure of Afghanistan’s international partners to properly follow up on the implementation of the policy, after extensively lobbying for and co-writing itwas “a good example of changing priorities by the international community at the most critical time”.
In another example of changing priorities, in March the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, handed over responsibility for IDP coordination to Ocha. The process took eight months, slowing down assessment of IDPs and creating friction with provincial government authorities who had received financial support from UNHCR, which Ocha is not mandated to give.
William Carter, access and protection adviser with Norwegian Refugee Council, which helped author the IDP policy, said UNHCR had relinquished its responsibility at an “unfortunate” time.
Last year were displaced, almost twice as many as in 2014. The spike was mainly due to , the emergence of militant groups loyal to Islamic State, and the in Badakhshan province. Meanwhile, the number of displaced people this year.
“I hope UNHCR does not now simply become a passive observer at a time when increasing numbers of displaced Afghan families, who have lost their homes and livelihoods, need assistance and protection the most,” Carter said.
UNHCR argued it had handed over coordination because displacement is not part of its mandate in other countries. “Many people think UNHCR has disengaged from IDPs. That’s not true,” said Elisabetta Brumat, UNHCR senior protection officer. “Ocha coordinates in other countries. And things [there] are working pretty well.”
However, some say UNHCR is being indecisive and reneging on a task it had volunteered to do. “UNHCR has gone back and forth on whether its mandate includes IDPs or not. It has never been clear on this issue,” said Majidi.
She also called on development agencies and the World Bank, to step up. Despite having a global programme on forced migration, and having conducted a comprehensive study on the topic in Afghanistan five years ago, the World Bank was still “silent”, Majidi said.
Amnesty also emphasised the obligation of international agencies “to come together and make sure that the very people the international community set out to help are not abandoned to an even more precarious fate”, said Patel.