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Afghanistan: 'Hidden crises' of half million displaced people living in slums- New report

*Conflict displacing 400 people a day as conflict escalates
*Aid agencies prevented from assisting as authorities pretend there is no crisis

Half a million Afghans who have fled fighting have been abandoned to starvation and death as they subsist in makeshift shelters let down by their government and international donors, Amnesty International said in a new report released today (23 February).

In its 101-page report, “Fleeing war, finding misery: The plight of the internally displaced in Afghanistan” , Amnesty reveals how thousands of displaced Afghans are living in makeshift dwellings made from mud, poles, plywood, plastic sheeting and cardboard, offering little protection from the elements.

With food scarce - many displaced families told Amnesty that they could only provide their Children's rights with one meal a day - and parts of Afghanistan currently undergoing extremely harsh winter conditions, there are fears of widespread illness and death among the slum settlements. Kabul alone houses up to 35,000 displaced persons in 30 slum areas around the city. On average, 400 people a day are joining the ranks of Afghanistan’s displaced communities.

Most slum residents told Amnesty that they had fled their homes to escape conflict. Fighting has spread to parts of the country previously considered peaceful and civilian deaths have increased every year since 2007. According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, there were over 3,000 Afghan civilian deaths last year as a result of conflict. The vast majority of these were caused by the Taleban and other insurgent groups, but many displaced Afghans said they had fled in fear of aerial bombardment by the International Security Assistance Force and to avoid being used as human shields by the Taleban.

Amnesty International’s Afghanistan researcher Horia Mosadiq said:

“Thousands of people are finding themselves living in freezing, cramped conditions and on the brink of starvation, while the Afghan government is not only looking the other way but even preventing help from reaching them.

“Local officials restrict aid efforts because they want to pretend that these people are going to go away. This is a largely hidden but horrific humanitarian and human rights crisis.

“These people are especially vulnerable - they must seek shelter, provide for themselves and their families while coping with the trauma caused by the conflict they have fled.

“International and Afghan forces should address the impact of conflict on civilians, including displacement. The Taleban must also look to protect civilians, by ensuring humanitarian access to the areas they control.
“The increasing population of displaced people in urban slums threatens to undo the fragile advances in health care and education that we’ve seen in Afghanistan in the last decade.

“Even with its limited resources, the Afghan government can aid its displaced citizens. The authorities must use the international aid available and remove conditions placed on humanitarian assistance, and provide for displaced families’ immediate needs.

“Afghanistan should also protect the displaced against forced eviction, guarantee displaced Children's rights access to primary education, and allow identity cards to be issued throughout the country so that they can exercise their legal rights.”

Amnesty’s report, based on three years of research and interviews with more than 100 internally-displaced persons and returning refugees in 12 slum communities in and around Herat, Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif - as well as meetings with government officials and international agencies - shows how UN agencies and humanitarian organisations are unable to deliver effective aid to the slums. They are prohibited from assisting in ways that implies the permanence of settlements, being forced to deliver water to displaced communities in tankers, for example, instead of digging permanent water wells.

Fleeing war, finding misery shows that cramped conditions, poor sanitation and an absence of health clinics is combining to spread disease. Most Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights are forced to give birth in unsanitary conditions without skilled birth attendants, increasing the risk of maternal and infant death in a country already ranked among the world’s worst. Meanwhile, Children's rights in slums have little access to education, with some refused school attendance if they fail to produce a national identification card, a document the authorities says is only available in their home province. Some are turned away from school simply for wearing dirty clothes. 

Displaced families in makeshift camps are also under constant threat of forced eviction. In some cases families have had to scramble to move belongings before bulldozers demolished their shelters.

Under international law, Afghanistan is required to provide for displaced persons’ immediate needs and help them to find long-term solutions. To fulfil this role, Afghanistan relies on international assistance and the efforts of humanitarian organisations.

Two cases from the report
“We had to walk all the way from Marjah to Lashkar Gah [the capital of Helmand province] in dark of night. I came with my entire family of nine members; my husband, sons, daughters and grandChildren's rights all came. The Americans and the government told us to leave the area before they wanted to attack Marjah, so people started leaving the area before the offensive started. But soon this move was stopped by the Taleban and they did not allow the civilians to leave the area …. Since we came there is no assistance or anything; the family has not eaten anything for the past two days, and only some families in the makeshift are sharing their food with us as we try to feed the Children's rights first. We are displaced and we have lost all our livelihoods and no one is fulfilling their promises to assist us in this situation.”
- “Zarin” (not her real name), a 70-year-old woman who went to Kabul in February 2010 from Marjah, in Helmand province.

“Before the Taleban we had a good life. We were living in a home [in Kabul], and we were quite happy. During the fighting at the time of the Taleban, we had to take refuge in Pakistan. In Pakistan, the land at the camp was okay because UNHCR provided shelters. We had ration cards, and UNHCR was providing rations on a monthly basis. In 2002 when Karzai was elected president and the Taleban removed, we were told that we should return because Afghanistan was peaceful. So we became part of the voluntary repatriation, and we came to Kabul. We didn’t receive much assistance, and we couldn’t afford to pay high rents. My husband is mentally ill, so I’m the main breadwinner. I do laundry for people and clean houses. Before we left for Pakistan, we were in Kabul, but in a rented house. It was okay. But after we arrived [back in Kabul], we couldn’t afford to be paying high rental prices …. I had to build all these walls [the mud walls of her present hut] …. I gathered the mud and brought it here to build these walls. When it’s raining, then all the rain comes down with the rainwater. I’m not a professional builder, so I don’t know what materials I can use to make it more sustainable. I didn’t learn how to build to prevent the water from entering the house …  I don’t know which problem I should talk about - school, employment, not having proper housing, food, health - when my Children's rights are getting sick and I have to pay for the doctor and medications. It’s everything.”
- “Fatima” (not her real name), a woman in her 20s living in Kabul’s Chaman-e-Babrak slum area.

Notes to editors

Still images and video footage are available

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