Afghanistan: New homes for Afghan returnees
Source: Norwegian Refugee Council
February 29, 2008
GulMehra Qaisar Khan
When widower Mahgul and her three small children returned to Afghanistan after having lived as refugees in Iran for many years, she thought it would be impossible to get a new home.
Mahgul, who suffers from kyphosis, which gives her an abnormally curved back, had no option but to settle in a tent, when her little family returned to the harsh and cold weather of the Ghoryan District in Herat province, East Afghanistan. When NRC learned about their situation, they included the family in the shelter project funded by the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid (ECHO). Now, Mahgul and her children finally have got a roof over their heads, that protects them from all the miseries that they have faced in previous years.
“Getting a new home was made possible only because of the NRC Shelter Project. I’ll always be thankful for this,” Mahgul says.
Herat is a province where many Afghan refugees who have returned are in desperate need of humanitarian and legal assistance. Situated in the northwestern part of Afghanistan, Herat is the third largest city in Afghanistan and the capital of Herat Province. During the Afghan war of resistance from late seventies to early nineties, the city of Herat saw considerable fighting and suffered significant destruction.
Prioritize vulnerable families
The NRC Shelter Project in Herat is funded by ECHO. The project commenced from 1st May 2007 and the budget is EUR 700,000. It is due to be completed in June 2008. Under this project 630 shelters will be constructed for returned families in Herat benefiting 4,200 individuals, with up to 25 percent of shelters going to vulnerable families in the host community. The main beneficiaries of the project are vulnerable families that have returned from Iran. Only 15 percent of these families have their own home, the rest live with friends and relatives. Half of the beneficiaries are female-headed households. Beneficiaries are selected by a committee consisting of village elders, the head of the shura, representatives of returnees, the Department of Repatriation and Refugee Affairs and NRC.
The project is based on community mobilization work, where NRC provides capacity building training on construction techniques, health and hygiene and construction toolkits to enable the people themselves to undertake self-help construction. NRC’s Community Mobilization Teams also help to identify other needs and make referrals to relevant authorities and agencies where these fall outside the project’s area of responsibility to respond, for example on health or education needs. Over 1,000 individuals will benefit from these referrals.
Millions have returned
Afghanistan is prone to natural disasters. The worsening security situation since the resurgence of the conflict in the South and South-East has made the lives of ordinary Afghans even more difficult. More than a third of Afghanistan’s population fled to Pakistan, Iran and other countries from the invasion by the Soviet Union onwards. Since 2001 and the fall of the Taliban, over five million Afghan refugees have returned.
There is still a long way to go in meeting the basic needs of those who have returned and those who may return in 2008. Access to land, shelter, livelihood support, health, water, sanitation and education are all major areas where further progress is required to support a sustainable and durable reintegration process. Meeting the immediate emergency assistance and protection needs of returning refugees is also important.
NRC has programs in more than 20 countries around the world, many funded by ECHO. NRC has been working in Afghanistan since 2003, implementing information counseling and legal assistance, shelter construction and education programs in various provinces. NRC believes that one of the basic hurdles in the sustainability of the return and reintegration of Afghan refugees has been the lack of access to land and the lack of shelter. As a result, NRC started a shelter project in Ghoryan district of Herat province.
A considerable increase in the numbers of internally displaced people fleeing the conflict in Afghanistan has been observed since 2006, including in Herat province. According to UNHCR, more than 143,000 Afghan refugees took part in assisted return to Herat province between March 2002 and September 2007. NRC believes that adequately addressing the needs of returning refugees in rural locations, will help to halt further migration to urban centers.
NRC also provides legal assistance to the beneficiaries in respect of property and land title disputes that arise when refugees return. One of them, Dilara, is a widow living with her nephew and nieces in the village Gunja of Ghoryan district. She had a land dispute with her brother-in-law, but through NRC’s legal assistance her nephew agreed to provide her with some land and with proper registration. Now she is building her home with the help of the shelter project.
The construction of the shelters is in line with UNHCR and SPHERE standards. NRC coordinates closely with DACAAR which provides water and sanitation facilities to the beneficiaries. NRC is cooperating and coordinating closely with the relevant Afghan Government departments at every level throughout all phases of project implementation.
“The people of Ghoryan want more shelters to be built in the other villages of Ghoryan district too, because this NRC ECHO funded Shelter Project has provided a ray of hope and happiness to the people of Ghoryan,” the Governor of Ghoryan district, Haji Abdul Naseer Muhmmadi, said.