Returnees bemoan government’s “empty promises”
BARIKAB, 14 August 2008 (IRIN) – Gul Haider’s small family migrated to Pakistan from Afghanistan’s Parwan Province in the 1980s but returned to their homeland in 2006 as almost two dozen people. Now in Afghanistan, shelter is their main problem.
Gul Haider was nine when the war against the Soviets forced his father, mother and two brothers to seek refuge in neighbouring Pakistan. “Now I have five children,” Haider told IRIN near his mud-hut in the Barikab returnees’ township, about 60km north of Kabul.
Their old house in the Gorband District of Parwan was seized by local militias after they emigrated and is now owned by a powerful commander who says he bought it “legitimately”.
“We were encouraged to repatriate and were told that the [Afghan] government would give us a house, work and other facilities,” Haider said mournfully. “But those were only empty promises,” he said.
The Ministry of Refugees and Returnees (MoRR) has allotted land plots to up to 7,000 landless returnees in the Barikab settlement, but so far less than 600 families have agreed to move there.
The Barikab community is in the middle of a vast arid desert and lacks markets, schools, hospitals, transport and electricity.
Dozens of families that had moved to the Barikab township have already left due to poor living conditions and lack of job opportunities, locals said.
“We don’t have a school here… there is no hospital, no electricity, no transport, no work,” said Humayon Khan, a delegate of the Barikab residents. “It’s just a desert.”
“Our children were going to school in Pakistan but there is no school here,” said Abdul Manan, a father of five.
“I don’t think people will continue to live here because of all the problems we are facing,” said Humayon Khan.
The MoRR and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) acknowledged the difficulties returnees are facing in the Barikab community, but said they alone could not reverse the situation.
“The UNHCR alone cannot provide for the site,” said Ahmad Nadir Farhad, a UNHCR spokesman in Kabul.
“It’s not a job only for the MoRR… various other government and non-government bodies must take part in the efforts to help returnees reintegrate effectively,” Abdul Qader Zazi, a senior adviser to the MoRR, said.
Over five million Afghan refugees have repatriated mostly from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran over the past six years, according to the UNHCR, but some do not have land or housing.
To support the reintegration of landless and vulnerable returnees the Afghan government launched a land distribution scheme in 2003, which has given land to some 100,000 families, the MoRR said.
However, only 6,000 households have moved into the designated areas due to lack of basic services and poor livelihood opportunities.
The outgoing UNHCR representative in Kabul, Salvatore Lombardo, said: “The dream that you are going to give a piece of land to everyone who comes back was false and… should not have been shared because that dream does not exist”.
“Often returnees are allotted land 50km from urban areas in flood plains where returnees have no means of livelihood,” the UNHCR’s Farhad said.
His concerns were echoed by Zazi of the MoRR: “Many people are waiting to see hospitals, roads, schools, electricity and other facilities in those areas and then move there”.
The government’s refugee reintegration programme has increasingly come in for criticism recently. Zazi of the MoRR conceded that the reintegration programme had been mired in operational confusion; there was only notional commitment to it, and it lacked resources.