AFGHANISTAN: IDPs reluctant to return home
KABUL, 28 April 2008 (IRIN) – Almost a month after the Afghan government launched a fresh effort to encourage the return of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the three largest IDP camps to their home provinces (mostly in the north), only about 130 families have opted to return, the Ministry of Refugees and Returnees Affairs (MoRRA) said.
At least 150,000 IDPs are currently living in Zherai, Mukhtar and Maslakh camps in Kandahar, Helmand and Herat provinces respectively, aid agencies and Afghan officials estimate.
In an effort to address the plight of the IDPs, in early April the MoRRA offered transport assistance and food aid to those wanting to return to their homes within two months.
“We had planned to return all displaced families living in these three camps to their original areas, and to do that we offered transport assistance and 3-6 months’ food aid,” Abdul Qadir Zazi, an adviser to the minister of refugees and returnees, told IRIN in Kabul.
“Thus far about 110 families in Maslakh, 15 in Zherai and 10 in Mukhtar have registered for return,” he said.
The government’s policy of encouraging the return of IDPs is backed by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which said it would provide assistance to returning IDPs in terms of transport, tents and food aid for a limited period of time.
Obstacles to return
The joint plan by the government and UN to send IDPs back to their homes has been coldly received by IDPs who say the worsening security situation, ethnic tensions, local warlords, unemployment and poverty are inhibiting their return in the near future.
“Commanders and warlords in the north are still seizing people’s land and forcing them to abandon their houses; so how can we return?” said Haji Gul Ahmed, a resident of Maslakh camp in Herat Province.
“There is no guarantee that commanders and gunmen [local militias] will not kill us and will not harm our females,” said Abdul Manan, a representative of displaced families from the northern province of Faryab, in Zherai camp in Kandahar Province.
Others pointed to lost livelihoods in their home areas, poverty and drought as major obstacles to their return.
Over one million people were reportedly displaced – mostly due to conflict and inter-communal tensions – immediately after the fall of the Taliban in late 2001. Tens of thousands of vulnerable Afghan families were also displaced by severe drought, factional fighting and food insecurity during Taliban rule, 1996-2001.
Many “old” IDPs have returned to their homes in the past six years or so (some assisted by aid agencies), but insurgency-related violence and food insecurity have also displaced thousands more over the past few years, according to aid agencies.
No aid to those who remain in camps
The MoRRA and the UNHCR have given assurances that displaced families will not be forced to repatriate to their home areas; returns will be entirely voluntary.
“We do not encourage IDPs to return to areas that we believe are unsafe,” said Nader Farhad, a UNHCR spokesman in Kabul.
However, the UNHCR will not resume its humanitarian relief operations for displaced people who are unwilling to leave the camps.
UN agencies officially halted their relief operations in Maslakh, Mukhtar and Zherai camps in March 2006.
“The UNHCR will start working with the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation on local integration as a durable solution,” Farhad said.
No medical teams in Zherai camp
Non-governmental organisations and the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) suspended health services in Zherai camp after several health workers were kidnapped by Taliban insurgents in 2007.
“We will not send medical teams to Zherai camp unless locals provide adequate security guarantees,” said Abdullah Fahim, a MoPH spokesman in Kabul, adding that the ministry did not want to put its staff at risk by forcing them to visit patients in Zherai.
Humanitarian relief and health services have been suspended for IDPs at a time when the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has warned that conflict is “spreading” in Afghanistan and civilians are increasingly becoming displaced.
The ICRC has called on aid agencies and the government of Afghanistan to respond to the “growing humanitarian needs” of IDPs “as a matter of urgency”.
Big advance in war on Afghanistan poppy
By Tom Coghlan in Helmand / Telegraph
Last Updated: 2:38am BST 25/04/2008
Opium production in Afghanistan is expected to fall significantly this year, with British and Afghan anti-drug efforts finally taking hold following record harvests.
Afghan officials said they expected that an increased number of the country’s 34 provinces would be declared “opium poppy free”.
More than 90 per cent of the heroin consumed in Britain originates in Afghanistan. Production in Helmand – its biggest heroin province and the front-line for British soldiers – is also expected to fall alongside successes against a major drug lord and smugglers.
General Khodaidad, Afghanistan’s counter-narcotics minister, said: “This year the overall cultivation of poppy is down. Around 20 provinces in total will be declared drug free.”
He added that the provinces of Nangahar and Badakhshan, which as recently as 2004 were behind only Helmand in production, would be poppy-free. Both are in the north and east of the country where government control is greater and the improvements have been the most significant.
The Afghan government considers any province with less than 2,500 acres of poppy to be “poppy-free”.
Last year 250,000 acres of opium poppy were planted in Helmand, according to Western counter-narcotics experts. Slightly less have been planted this year, while 10,000 acres have been eradicated.
Alongside Afghan police missions, British special forces have recently begun targeting drug smugglers in Helmand.
Western officials said that they had destroyed part of the massive poppy crop belonging to a major drugs figure in the province who is also its former police chief.
“Around 20 per cent of the land of Abdul Rahman Jan was successfully eradicated,” said one official.
Afghanistan’s drug trade has soared since the invasion in 2001, giving rise to a $4 billion industry that accounts for about a third of the country’s total economy.
Drug eradication efforts that were a shambles last year because police and government officials systematically took bribes to spare all but the most impoverished farmers appear to have been more successful this year.
The Telegraph spoke to two low-level drug smugglers in Helmand last month who claimed that Afghan eradication teams had been more resistant to bribery in 2008.
“In the past the eradication police came from Kabul and they all took bribes,” said one 35-year-old man, talking under the alias of Ahmad Wali.
“This year, there were many different organisations involved and each one was afraid to take the bribes because of the others.”
The two said that it was becoming hard for smaller smugglers to survive because only the powerful could afford to pay enough to avoid
prosecution. However, some analysts have said that the smugglers were deliberately suppressing production in key provinces until Western demand inflated prices.
A ban by the Taliban at the beginning of 2001 saw prices skyrocket, allowing smugglers to sell old opium, which can be stored for several years.
“People still have their stocks of opium and they need the price to go up,” said one Afghan official in Nangahar.
“With the increase in Western military activity in this area it has been hard to move the drugs. Now the price is $75 a kilo, but in four months that could triple.”
Western officials are united in their belief that the war on drugs in Afghanistan is likely to last 20 or more years.
They all expect poppy production, particularly in Nangahar province, will rise again next year, as steady worldwide increases in food and fuel prices puts added pressure on the poorest farmers to seek the most lucrative crop.
In the past 12 months, 820 people have been arrested for drug smuggling, including 17 Afghan soldiers and policemen, it was disclosed yesterday
One army colonel was sentenced to 10 years after he was caught with 100 lb of opium in a military vehicle.
© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2008