Displaced in Afghanistan, No Long-Term Solution

If the families are not able to return to their homes, after a few months, they are left without help

Badar Aka holding his son's photo.
During this summer, 50-year-old Badar Aka and his two wives and 14 children fled Nahr Shahi village in the Behsud district, Nangarhar province. Their village is located in the vicinity of the U.S. military airbase in Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangarhar. “The Taliban frequently attack the airbase. We fled because the number of attacks is increasing. It became very dangerous to live there,” said Badar Aka. About six years ago, a rocket hit his house during a clash between government forces and the Taliban. “In that attack, I lost my eldest son Muzamel. He was 13 years old. One of my sons, Zubair Ahmed, was severely wounded. He was only 8 years old when he got injured,” said Badar Aka. He showed photos of Zubair Ahmed whose lower-right part of the face was completely disfigured. During treatment, he was transferred to Germany for surgery. Although he is now able to talk, he still has problems while eating.

After they fled their village this year, Badar Aka and his family moved to Puli Company, a camp for internally displaced people located on the outskirts of Kabul. Like most of the people living in the camp, Badar Aka cannot find a job. For many years, he worked as a driver for the Organization for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation (OMAR), but he recently lost that job. “Now I don’t work. We still have some money left, but I don’t know what we’ll do when we spend all of it,” he said.

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From January to October 2016, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) identified about 411,000 newly war-related displaced people in Afghanistan. In total, there are more than 1.2 million war-related displaced people across the country. Many of them sought shelter in the relatively safe cities, for example Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Jalalabad and Herat.

Charai Qambar Camp
Humanitarian aid is provided by many governmental and non-governmental organizations, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), World Food Program (WFP) and World Health Organization (WHO). “Our assistance is a one-time assistance. The kind of assistance differs from agency to agency. We make an assistance package together, and then deliver it to the families. We [the UNHCR] provide non-food assistance like tents, buckets, blankets and sanitation kits,” said Mohammad Nader Farhad, UNHCR’s Public Information Officer in Kabul. The main problem in delivering aid is that many displaced families stay in areas that are inaccessible for humanitarian organizations. “Not each and everybody is being assisted. It’s not possible to verify and register families who live in inaccessible areas. It’s not possible to reach them and bring them aid,” said Mohammad Nader Farhad.

Although many families receive aid immediately after being displaced, this is only a one-time assistance. If the families are not able to return to their homes, after a few months, they are left without help. “The challenges go way beyond the assistance that is being provided. For these families, a viable long-term option has to be sought. And this viable option does not mean continuing providing them with humanitarian assistance,” said Mohammad Nader Farhad. Even though he insisted there is a strong will within the Afghan government to find long-term solutions for displaced families, it is clear that the cash-strapped government remains too weak to assist its most vulnerable citizens. Most of the displaced families who are unable to return to their homes have no choice but to seek informal work in the largest cities. Most of the men work as daily laborers, usually earning about 300 Afghanis (less than $5) per day.

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In September this year, 25-year-old Sardar and his family fled Barakzai village in Sangin district, Helmand province. In that district, which is almost completely under Taliban control, the government forces remain deployed only in the district capital and on the main road that connects the district capital with Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital. Sardar’s village was under government control until this summer, but then the Taliban launched an operation in which they managed to drive away the government forces. “There was a lot of fighting. Part of our house was destroyed in the fighting. Some of my family members who stayed in the village now live in a tent,” said Sardar.

With the village now under Taliban control, Sardar is afraid to return, because the Taliban could identify him as a government supporter. “I have many friends in the police and the army. They visited me at my house before the fighting. If I return to my village, the Taliban could take revenge on me,” he said.

After they fled their village, Sardar and his family found shelter in Charai Qambar camp in Kabul. Over the past ten years, Charai Qambar camp, one of Kabul’s oldest and largest camps for internally displaced people, expanded significantly, evolving into a chaotic maze of small mud houses. The houses, many of them clustered in compounds, are connected by narrow lanes with ditches serving as a sewer system. The camp, home to about 1400 families from Helmand, Kandahar and Oruzgan province, has only a few water wells. When the water pumps at the wells break, residents have to carry potable water in plastic cans from a nearby residential area. On the fringes of the camp, Aschiana, an Afghan non-governmental organization, set up a large tent in which they provide education to some of the displaced children. “Most of the children don’t go to school. Aschiana provides teaching materials to only 40 children,” said Taus Khan, one of the tribal elders living in the camp.

During the presidential election campaign in 2014, Ashraf Ghani promised that, if elected, he would allow the displaced families at Charai Qambar camp to permanently settle in Kabul. “Ashraf Ghani promised to either legalize this settlement or find for us new plots of land to settle. We voted for him, but he didn’t keep his promise,” concluded Taus Khan.