Afghanistan: Tens of thousands of People Displaced by Fighting and Hunger

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Afghanistan: Tens of thousands of People Displaced by Fighting and Hunger

WASHINGTON - Tens of thousands of Afghans displaced
from their homes by escalating fighting and ongoing food shortages
require immediate humanitarian assistance, said Amnesty International
today.

The organization called on the international community to implement
a comprehensive strategy for assisting the Afghan people. The call came
as US President Barack Obama announced the deployment of an additional
17,000 US troops to Afghanistan and urged the international community
to commit more forces.

"The US and the international community should adopt an approach
that emphasizes the rights and well being of the Afghan people and not
just focus on a military solution," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty
International's Asia-Pacific director.

Around 235,000 people are currently displaced in Afghanistan,
according to estimates by the United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR). Most of them are displaced as a result of the
fighting between government forces (and allied US and NATO troops) and
armed opposition groups, including the Taleban, particularly in the
South, Southeast and Northwest regions of Afghanistan.

"We are already half way through another hard winter in Afghanistan
and tens of thousands of Afghans who already had some of the lowest
standards of economic development in the world have been forced out of
their homes because of fighting and a dangerous crisis of food
shortage," said Sam Zarifi.

The fighting between various armed groups in Afghanistan has
aggravated the effects of an ongoing drought and growing food
insecurity in northern and western Afghanistan and forced thousands of
families to seek shelter in relatively safer and wealthier areas, such
as Herat and Kabul.  People who have been displaced by the fighting in
southern Afghanistan have arrived at camps near Kandahar, where they
are vulnerable to ongoing fighting between government forces and the
Taleban and are largely cut off from international assistance.

In December 2008 Amnesty International researchers visited several
informal camps established by the displaced in Kabul and Herat
provinces. They found more than 700 families settled in slum-like
conditions in western Kabul. In Herat province, in western Afghanistan,
they witnessed hundreds of families are living in Maslakh and Shaidayee
camps. Thousands of other displaced people either live with their
relatives or in rented accommodations in Kabul and Herat.

There are estimated to be tens of thousands of people in makeshift
camps and shantytowns in Herat and Kabul. Those interviewed told
Amnesty International that they had escaped fighting and insecurity in
their areas, particularly in the south. The people gathered at these
camps repeatedly reported that they received little, if any, assistance
from government or non- government agencies.

"People in the camps in Kabul and Herat are living in extremely
inadequate shelters with almost no heating and no bedding, where small
children and elderly people have to sleep on the wet floor. Most people
in those camps have little or no access to food, drinking water, health
services and education," Sam Zarifi said. "Our researchers also came
across numerous instances of communicable diseases such as
tuberculosis."

A 35-year-old woman and mother of eight children who is now in an informal camp in Kabul told Amnesty International that:

"It's about a year that we became displaced from Helmand province to
Kabul because of the fighting between government and Taleban
insurgents. Our homes were bombed [by NATO forces] and we lost
everything we had during fighting. Here we have nothing, no job and no
assistance from any national and international agency. It was long ago
when we received some rice and coal from an Afghan businessman and
since then we have nothing and I have to spend days and nights with no
food."
 
Many of the displaced people in Herat and Kabul told Amnesty
International that they were forced to leave their homes because the
Taleban and other armed opposition groups were preventing aid agencies
from assisting the civilian population in the conflict-affected areas
of southern and eastern Afghanistan.

According to the Afghan NGOs Safety Office (ANSO), which maintains
comprehensive records of NGO activity in Afghanistan, in 2008 31 staff
members of non-governmental organizations were killed in Afghanistan,
while 78 were abducted by armed opposition and criminal groups.
ANSO recorded 176 attacks against NGO staff and facilities. So far in
2009, one NGO staff member has already been killed, seven have been
abducted, and there have been 25 attacks against aid convoys and
facilities.

"By targeting and killing aid workers, armed opposition and criminal
groups are committing war crimes. They are also preventing the delivery
of essential humanitarian assistance, thereby worsening the already
miserable conditions facing tens of thousands of people who are already
suffering from hunger and cold, particularly women and children cut off
from health care and education," Sam Zarifi said.

In line with international humanitarian law, all parties to the
conflict, including armed opposition groups, have a legal obligation to
allow and facilitate safe passage of impartial humanitarian assistance
to civilians lacking supplies and services essential for their survival.

Amnesty International calls upon the Afghan government, particularly
the Ministry of Refugee and Repatriation Affairs, and all the other
national and international aid agencies to provide immediate assistance
for the displaced, including essential food and potable water, basic
shelter, appropriate clothing and heating materials as well as
essential medical services and sanitation, in line with the UN Guiding
Principles on Internal Displacement.

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Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights for all. Our supporters are outraged by human rights abuses but inspired by hope for a better world - so we work to improve human rights through campaigning and international solidarity. We have more than 2.2 million members and subscribers in more than 150 countries and regions and we coordinate this support to act for justice on a wide range of issues.

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