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UN expert concerned about growing problem of internal displacement in Afghanistan

Geneva, Kabul, 20 August 2007: - -“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. More must be done to prevent such displacement and to protect and assist the displaced,” said the Representative of the Secretary-General for the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Walter Kaelin after a week-long visit to Afghanistan. During his visit to participate in a United Nations workshop on the protection of civilians in Afghanistan, the Representative met Vice-President Karim Khalili, several Ministers and heads of international agencies and NGOs.

“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” he said. Walter Kaelin called on all parties to the conflict to scrupulously respect international humanitarian law, in particular the requirement to distinguish at all times between civilians and combatants and the need to carry out anti-insurgence operations in a way that avoids disproportionate impact causing civilian death. He condemned the systematic disregard for international humanitarian law by the Taliban, in turn exposing civilian populations to high risks. “The fact that most areas affected by the conflict are not accessible for humanitarian organizations for security reasons hampers the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance” he added, encouraging all actors to do their utmost to facilitate access, including through the use of agreed ‘days of tranquility’.

The families fleeing the present fighting are adding to the 130,000 internally displaced persons in the South and Southwest who are still living in provisional settlements since they were displaced by drought and insecurity five or more years ago. In addition to this figure, there are an unknown number of persons displaced by human rights violations, inter-communal tensions or floods and other natural disasters. Furthermore, there is a real risk that refugees returning from neighboring countries who cannot go to their places of origin or otherwise find a durable solution may end up in a situation of internal displacement without adequate shelter and access to livelihoods. “I encourage the Government of Afghanistan and its neighbors to continue a voluntary and gradual approach to the return of the approximately three million Afghan nationals who remain in neighboring countries. 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 the conditions for durable solutions, such as return to their original communities, where possible, or settlement and integration in a new community,” the Representative stated.

He showed his appreciation for the many activities undertaken by the Government of Afghanistan, international humanitarian agencies as well as non-governmental organizations to protect and assist the different categories of internally displaced persons. “At the same time, the effect of these programmes is often limited by a lack of capacity, resources, and overall coordination, as well as limitations on humanitarian access. Both a common analysis of the present situation as well as a comprehensive and coordinated response to the complex situation of displacement in this country are absent” the Representative noted. Concerning the needs of existing IDPs, he stressed that addressing immediate humanitarian needs is not sufficient. “To facilitate durable solutions, IDPs’ human rights to physical security, to shelter and livelihoods must be respected. Moreover land disputes and enduring landlessness are a tremendous problem. They have been and remain a substantial cause of displacement and a substantial obstacle to return.”

He expressed his hope that both the Government of Afghanistan and the international community would focus on preparing a comprehensive survey of the dynamics of displacement in Afghanistan, the different categories of IDPs and the main needs of the displaced and consider developing a comprehensive strategy to address the phenomenon of internal displacement and provide the means for its implementation.

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