Report: Half a Million Afghans Flee Fighting but Head to Starvation and Death

Refugees in Kabul, Afghanistan, on February 11, 2012. Amnesty International's report states that "nearly two dozen displaced children under the age of five froze to death in January 2012." (U.S. Army Photo by SPC. Anthony Murray Jr)

Report: Half a Million Afghans Flee Fighting but Head to Starvation and Death

'Fleeing war, finding misery' documents harsh effects continued fighting brings to Afghan families

Fighting in Afghanistan has left half a million Afghans displaced and on the brink of starvation or death, according to a new report from Amnesty International.

The report, 'Fleeing war, finding misery: The plight of the internally displaced in Afghanistan,' (pdf) states that 400 people a day are displaced, with displacement on the rise.

Thousands of the displaced individuals are seeking shelter in slum areas around Kabul and other cities, making makeshift shelters that offer little in protection to the elements. The report states that "nearly two dozen displaced children under the age of five froze to death in January 2012."

"Thousands of people are finding themselves living in freezing, cramped conditions and on the brink of starvation, while the Afghan government is not only looking the other way but even preventing help from reaching them," said Horia Mosadiq, Amnesty International's Afghanistan researcher.

"Women and girls disproportionately bear the consequences of displacement," said Cristina Finch, Amnesty International USA's women's policy director. "They face an increased risk of sexual violence which is often compounded by the insecure conditions of slums and armed conflict. We call upon the U.S. government to work with the Afghan government to help ensure that needed assistance is delivered."

Throughout Afghanistan, United Nations agencies and humanitarian organizations cannot deliver effective aid to slums, as they are prohibited from assisting in ways that implies the permanence of settlements. So, instead of digging permanent water wells, they are forced to deliver water to displaced communities in tankers.

"Local officials restrict aid efforts because they want to pretend that these people are going to go away," said Mosadiq. "This is a largely hidden but horrific humanitarian and human rights crisis."

"Afghans have real grounds to feel less secure now than at any point in the last ten years," said Mosadiq. "International and Afghan forces should address the impact of conflict on civilians, including displacement. The Taleban must also look to protect civilians, by ensuring humanitarian access to the areas they control."

* * *

Ashfaq Yusufzai reports for Inter Press Service that externally displaced Afghans are suffering as well, as Pakistan cracks down on refugees.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Pakistan is home to 1.7 million documented Afghan refugees. Meanwhile, data compiled by Pakistan's home and tribal affairs department found that the country was simultaneously playing host to 400,000 undocumented Afghans, many of who live in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), one of the Pakistan's four major provinces.

For the refugees and immigrants, Pakistan is the only escape from a life of poverty and persecution.

Haji Dost Muhammad, an elder of the Afghan Refugees Jirga (tribal assembly), told IPS that many of his people could not return due to a lack of electricity, water and education in their home country.

"Our children have been born and brought up here and now they don't want to go back as they are getting an education here. When the situation improves in Afghanistan, we will all go back," he said.

But many in Pakistan want an immediate deportation of all illegal residents.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.