Over 1,000 families in a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kandahar Province, southern Afghanistan, have opted to return to their home areas in the north and northwest of the country.
This is because of worsening insecurity and lack of aid at the camp, reports UN news agency IRIN.
Zherai Dasht camp, about 25km south of Kandahar city, was home to hundreds of thousands of IDPs in 2002-2005.
Most have returned home over the past four years but some 3,000 families still live in the camp, according to the provincial department of refugees.
Mohammad Azam Nawabi, director of the refugees’ department in Kandahar, said that 1,087 families had formally expressed their desire to return.
Nawabi, and several camp residents, said the IDPs wanted to go to their home areas because of the insecurity, lack of aid and grinding poverty.
‘We left our homes (in Faryab Province, northern Afghanistan) because of insecurity and now we are leaving this camp because of the same problem,’ said Abdul Wahid, adding that Taleban and pro-government forces had been harassing camp residents.
‘There is no water, no health clinic, no doctor, no school and no job for us in the camp – how can people live here?’ added Sahib Jan.
Most of the IDPs who had registered to return said they had had no assurances their living conditions would improve when they returned to their places of origin.
Returning IDPs will receive a cash grant for transport and food aid to help them back to Badghis, Faryab, Maimana, Balkh and Jozjan provinces, said Nawabi.
According to a study by the US-based Brookings Institution, many returning IDPs face serious reintegration difficulties in their original areas due to the lack of access to basic services – drinking water, healthcare, employment and education.
‘Evidence suggests that those who opt to return, soon find themselves again displaced, this time as economic migrants who are more easily dismissed by provincial authorities and largely ignored by relief agencies,’ said the study.
Returning IDPs could be displaced again because of re-integration challenges in their original areas, aid agencies say.
In 2002, about 1.2 million people became internally displaced, most of them ethnic Pashtuns who left their homes in northern and northwestern provinces out of fear of ethnic cleansing by victorious anti-Taleban Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara militias.
About 235,000 individuals are believed to be still internally displaced, most of them concentrated in three IDP camps in Herat, Helmand and Kandahar provinces, according to the UNHCR and the government.
Thousands of people were also forced out of their homes and villages in 2008 because of armed hostilities between insurgents and Afghan government and international forces, aid agencies said.