Afghan refugees return to absolutely nothing

April 13, 2012

Danish Refugee Council, April 13, 2012

Returning Afghan refugees and internally displaced people are living in muddy slum areas of the cities in Afghanistan. They have no possessions and no opportunities. The International Society is not aware of the dire living conditions of this vulnerable group, says Ann Mary Olsen, head of the International Department of the Danish Refugee Council.

Between 400.000 and 800.000 Afghan refugees are expected to return to Afghanistan from the neighbouring countries during 2012-13 according to the UNHCR. Often because of lack of permissions in hosting countries, they have to return despite the fact that there is currently nothing to return to and not enough resources in the Afghan society to make sure they reintegrate.

Most of the returning refugees settle in urban or semi-urban areas due to a more secure environment and perceived better livelihood opportunities. Most of the returnees end up in one of the rapidly growing tent- and mud house settlements, alongside a quarter million internally displaced (IDPs) Afghans, who are also trying to make a living in the urban slum areas.

“The returning Afghans have nothing to return to. There are no schools, no access to medical aid, no water. They live in mud houses and sleep directly on the ground. Children are freezing to death as a consequence of their miserable living conditions,” says Ann Mary Olsen, head of the International Department of the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) after visiting the settlements in Kabul.

DRC has been expanding its assistance in the urban areas of Afghanistan as the challenges of the rising number of returnees and IDPs has grown. Among other things DRC has been providing access to water and livelihood support. This winter, DRC has further been handing out lifesaving aid as food, firewood, stoves, waterproof sheets and warm clothes.

“The living conditions are very severe in the informal camps as there is no infrastructure and no one to make sure things are improving. The Afghan government does not have the capacity to change things – and they further have no wish to keep people in the urban areas,” says Ann Mary Olsen, who is wondering why the International Society isn’t acting to change the inhuman living conditions of the returnees and the IDPs.

To improve the situation UNHCR and the Afghan government have selected 40 sites in five Afghan provinceswhere consorted efforts will take place to todevelop better return and integration conditions for returnees and IDPs. The Danish Refugee Council will take a lead in developing two of these sites.

“Our assignment is to make sure that the returnees have something to return to. We are to give them the environment and the tools to make a future for themselves and their families. We are not talking of a simple intervention – to make this work, we need to focus on a decent infrastructure, protection and livelihood programs at the same time,” says Ann Mary Olsen.

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