UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
AFGHANISTAN: Northern IDPs begin to return from south
ZAR-E-DASH, 24 May 2005 (IRIN) - Zahir Khan, a 50-year-old internally displaced person (IDP) was seen off by his friends in the Zar-e-Dash camp in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar on Sunday. The father of seven was beginning his journey home to the town of Qaisar in the northwestern province of Faryab.
Khan was displaced because of discrimination and harassment against ethnic Pashtuns in the north after the collapse of the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001. The Taliban drew their support from Pashtuns and after their fall many ordinary people from the same ethnic group were associated with them.
He is one of 222 people making up the first group of IDPs to return home in 2005 with support from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
“I have heard that the commanders are disarming and the situation has improved,” Khan told IRIN in Zar-e-Dasht, as he and other IDPs were loaded their belongings into trucks organised by IOM.
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) there are still 133,000 IDPs in four camps in southern Afghanistan. Zar-e-Dasht is the largest, accommodating 49,000 people. Most of these IDPs took refuge in the south in early 2002 after harassment by local warlords and incidents of systematic ethnic discrimination in the country’s northern provinces. Other camp residents are Kochees, or nomads, from the south who were displaced following years of prolonged drought.
Many of the returning IDPs like Khan, are illiterate and most have no profession. They are returning hoping to regain their rain-fed farms but most have been under the control of local commanders for the last three years.
“I heard that the commanders no longer are in control and the Afghan National Army (ANA) and international peacekeepers are deployed in Faryab,” Khan said.
Sunday’s movement is significant because it is an indication that people perceive the north to be improving for the return of IDPs.
“This is one step towards national reconciliation and it is important that IDPs are convinced that the security situation for Pashtuns has improved,” Ahmad Shah, an information officer with UNHCR, told IRIN in Kandahar as the IDPs left for Faryab.
According to the UN refugee agency, up to 5,332 IDP families returned to their places of origin in 2004 but with the improvement of security in the north and the alleviation of drought conditions a substantial number are expected to return in 2005.
“We do hope this return will be the start of something more substantial. This is only fifty families, but maybe by next week larger movements may start,” Tim Irwin, a UNHCR spokesperson, told IRIN in Kabul.
The families are provided with transportation to their places of origin and each family receives a small assistance package to help them resettle.
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