Afghanistan’s Growing Refugee Crisis
Thursday, July 10, 2008 10:48 AM
Refugees International researchers were surprised when they showed up in Taghi Naghi, an area in northwestern Afghanistan in June to assess one of the country’s 11 “land allocation schemes” for returning refugees. What they found differed sharply from the government’s plans for the hundreds of thousands of people returning from exile in Pakistan and Iran. Despite UN objections, the shelters had been built in the desert, an hour’s trip to the nearest city of Herat. A water pump was hooked up to a dry well, but an NGO trucking in water said their contract was going to run out soon after the visit. Only 12 families were occupying the more than 200 shelters that had been built, none of whom had any means of finding employment. According to one man living at Taghi Naghi, he might be forced to move his family to Herat despite being unable to pay its high city rents, since it was becoming increasingly difficult to feed his children.
The floundering Taghi Naghi project, one of 55 planned across Afghanistan, cost $2 million, and is just one example of how the refugee situation in Afghanistan is bad and growing worse, according to a Refugees International (RI) report published July 10. Since things started looking up for Afghanistan in 2002, the largest-ever refugee homecoming brought more than 5 million Afghan refugees back into the country, some of whom had been living in exile for three decades as their country weathered war with the Soviets, Taliban rule, and the NATO invasion. But over 3 million people are still stranded in exile, RI says, while many of those who have returned are ill-equipped to deal with Afghanistan’s harsh land and security crises. Deteriorating conditions in recent months due to a food crisis and an insurgency again on the rise have further complicated matters, while an impending Pakistani threat to bulldoze camps in their country by the end of 2009 has contributed an added time p
ressure to deal with the problems.
“The situation in Afghanistan is worsening, and we’re running the risk of losing the gains we’ve made in the past few years,” said RI advocate Patrick Duplat, who produced the report after traveling with a colleague for a month to meet with refugees in Pakistan and returnees in Afghanistan. “Of course, the situation in general in Afghanistan is quite dire. From 40 to 60 percent of the country is inaccessible, so all Afghans are vulnerable. But that being said, a large percentage of the population–5 million people–are particularly vulnerable.”
The report blames a lack of planning and coordination on the part of both Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government and its international backers, who provide over 90 percent of the country’s budget. While billions of dollars have been invested in reconstruction projects in Afghanistan since 2001, too few have made their way to real development projects, RI contends; large-scale infrastructure and counter-insurgency efforts have sapped most of the funds.
As a result, RI is calling on donors to coordinate and fund their efforts in Afghanistan at a joint UN and Afghan conference in Kabul in November. “What we’d like to see is the returnees being integrated into the mainstream national programs,” said Duplat, cautioning that a failure to act could lead refugees to either try their luck at returning to Pakistan or swell the ranks of Afghanistan’s urban poor. A lack of resources is not the problem, he says; the international community just needs to put its money where its mouth is to integrate refugees without forcibly displacing them, whether they want to come back to Afghanistan or stay in Pakistan permanently.
© 2008 Newsweek, Inc.