War, neglect leave 500,000 Afghans homeless: Amnesty


Half a million Afghans displaced by war have been left homeless and struggling to survive because of government and international neglect, Amnesty International said Thursday.
Around 400 people join makeshift shelters around the country every day, Amnesty said in a report entitled “Fleeing war, finding misery”, based on three years of research.
The Afghan government estimates that more than 40 people froze to death this winter, the harshest in 15 years, with at least 28 children dying in camps around Kabul.
The government is “not only looking the other way but even preventing help from reaching them” in an attempt to avoid making the settlements permanent, Amnesty researcher Horia Mosadiq said.
“Local officials restrict aid efforts because they want to pretend that these people are going to go away. This is a largely hidden but horrific humanitarian and human rights crisis,” she said.
The report calls on the government to remove conditions placed on humanitarian aid and on international donors to “ensure that their humanitarian assistance addresses the needs of internally displaced people”.
Kabul alone houses up to 35,000 displaced persons in 30 slum areas around the city, according to the report.
Slum residents told Amnesty that they had fled their homes to escape the escalating war which has seen the number of civilian deaths rise steadily to a record of more than 3,000 in 2011, according to UN figures.
Most of the casualties are caused by Taliban insurgents, but many displaced Afghans told Amnesty that they fled their homes in fear of NATO bombardment and to avoid being used as human shields by the militants.
NATO has some 130,000 troops in Afghanistan supporting the government of President Hamid Karzai against an insurgency led by remnants of the Islamist Taliban regime overthrown by a US-led invasion in 2001.
“Afghans have real grounds to feel less secure now than at any point in the last 10 years,” said Mosadiq.
“International and Afghan forces should address the impact of conflict on civilians, including displacement. The Taliban must also look to protect civilians, by ensuring humanitarian access to the areas they control.”
Food is scarce in the camps and children in slum communities have little access to education, according to the report.
“Since we came there is no assistance or anything; the family has not eaten anything for the past two days,” a camp dweller named Zarin told Amnesty.
Most women give birth in difficult and unsanitary conditions without skilled attendants, increasing the risk of maternal and infant death in a country ranked among the world’s worst places for maternal health, the report said.
With housing scarce and expensive in the main cities, families who flee the war construct makeshift dwellings from mud, poles, plywood and plastic sheeting that give them little protection from the cold in winter and heat in summer.
“I don’t know which problem I should talk about – school, unemployment, not having proper housing, food, health — when my children are getting sick and I have to pay for the doctor — it’s everything,” said Fatima, a woman in her 20s living in a Kabul camp.
The report calls on the government to protect displaced people against forced eviction, guarantee their children access to primary education and allow them to be issued with identity cards so they can exercise their legal rights.
The head of the UN refugee agency Antonio Guterres told AFP this month that UNHCR was overhauling its strategy in a bid to stop returning Afghans from becoming destitute, and to focus on sustainable reintegration.