Afghans Displaced by War Doubles to 1.2 Million, Amnesty Says

  • Afghan government displacement policy stymied by corruption
  • Number of displaced has increased from 500,000 in three years

At least 1.2 million Afghans have been displaced by conflict, more than double the number three years ago, while a government policy meant to improve conditions for those fleeing war has been stymied by corruption and lack of capacity, according to Amnesty International.

Afghanistan’s 2014 National Policy on Internally Displaced Persons has barely been implemented and hasn’t improved living conditions for those fleeing violence, which has increased from 500,000 people at the end of 2012, London-based Amnesty said in a report on Tuesday. Afghan IDPs live in makeshift housing that offers little shelter from the country’s hot summers and freezing winters, and they receive minimal aid, Amnesty said.

Internally-displaced Afghan children gather at a refugee camp in Kabul on May 31.
Internally-displaced Afghan children gather at a refugee camp in Kabul on May 31.
Photographer: Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images

“It’s a pretty horrific situation,” Olof Blomqvist, a South Asia researcher at Amnesty and co-author of the report, said in a phone interview from Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital. “There’s very little to indicate that anything will change in the conflict, and it will probably get worse.”

The war in Afghanistan killed or wounded a record 11,000 civilians last year -- a quarter of them children -- taking the total toll to 60,000 since the United Nations began compiling the data in 2009. The conflict against the Taliban, now in its 15th year, has cost the U.S. more than $700 billion and killed more than 2,300 American soldiers.

Intense Fighting

U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper said in February that fighting this year will be more intense than the last.

At the same time, Afghanistan’s economy is strained. Per capita incomes have fallen since 2012 and the International Monetary Fund predicts they will continue to decline this year. A job shortage is boosting domestic instability and at least 2.6 million Afghans are refugees seeking shelter in other countries, according to Amnesty. Outside funding is also under pressure: The UN Humanitarian Response Plan in Afghanistan drew only $292 million last year, the lowest since 2009.

Along with a deteriorating economy, the intensifying insurgency and fractious political elite are among the main challenges facing President Ashraf Ghani. Yet because the 2014 displacement policy was introduced when former President Hamid Karzai was leaving office, Ghani’s administration has never seen it as a priority, Amnesty said.

Budget Gaps

“Much of the failure to implement the policy is also due to a lack of political will and capacity in the Afghan government,” Amnesty’s report said. “The Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, charged with coordinating the implementation of the policy and developing a national action plan for its roll-out, has been beset by corruption allegations for years from multiple credible sources, to the point that some international actors have stopped providing it with monetary aid.”

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation rejected Amnesty’s assertions that the displacement policy was failing, according to Hafiz Ahmad Miakhel, an adviser to the ministry. The government has provided humanitarian assistance and shelter to 65 percent of 1 million people who have fled violence, he said.

“Our next challenge is lack of budget,” Miakhel said. “I also can’t say the ministry isn’t corrupt at all. We’ve been fighting against this plague.”

Islamic State

The problem with displacement has exacerbated due to splits within the Taliban and as Islamic State seeks to expand its control in the country, said Blomqvist. It’s unclear if the death of the Taliban’s leader will ease the violence, he said.

Last week the Taliban named Maulavi Haibatullah Akhundzada to replace Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike near the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Akhundzada headed the judiciary during Taliban rule in the 1990s and was close to both Mansour and Mullah Omar, who founded the group and died in 2013. It’s unclear if Akhundzada will be more open to talks with the Afghan government than Mansour, who was seen as an obstacle to a peace deal.

“There’s a lot more splits between Taliban factions and more inter-Taliban fighting,” Blomqvist said. “It’s very difficult to speculate what impact” Mansour’s death will have, he said.