Monday, October 19, 2009

What War Brings: internally displaced people

Photo: An Afghan boy washed among the ruins of a Kandahar building supplies store destroyed by a rocket attack in August. Recent reports assessing Afghanistan’s progress show government institutions are deteriorating as much as the country’s security. Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

WHAT WAR BRINGS: internally displaced people

Every war and occupation brings about human catastrophes, such as lacking basic necessities, poverty, insecurity and massive violence. Often these problems get so bad that people flee their homes, become refugees either inside or outside their own country. Another blog post covered the refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan who fled to foreign countries. This blog post will cover those who became internal refugees inside their own countries. Again, this is just a snapshot portrait of what has happened – and is still happening – in these countries.

Refugees, whether internal or external to their home countries, face hunger, malnutrition, lack of sanitation, disease, trauma, lack of housing, lack of drinking water, extreme stress that results in mental health problems, lack of employment, disruption in education, and threats to their very survival.

Doctors without Borders have put together a slide show documenting what a refugee might face. I recommend watching it.


There are a lot of internally displaced Iraqis, just like there are a lot of Iraqis who have fled to foreign countries. The article below claims that there are 2.8 million internally displaced Iraqis, which would be about 10% of the total population. If this were happening in the USA that would mean about 30 million internally displaced people in the last six years. Katrina resulted in 400,000 internally displaced people. What Iraq has seen is far, far worse.

Support for internally displaced

Meanwhile, IOM (International Office of Migration) estimates that there are about 2.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq, of whom 1.6 million were displaced since the February 2006 bombing of a Shia shrine north of Baghdad that triggered sectarian violence. Some improvement in the security situation in parts of Iraq since last year has helped some of the displaced return. Of those who have returned, 40 percent came back to partially or completely destroyed homes, 17 percent had regular access to safe drinking water, 59 percent could not afford fuel and 35 percent were unemployed, according to IOM. "Many internally displaced and returnees in Iraq do not have access to adequate shelter, safe water, and health care," Daniel Endres, head of the UNHCR mission in Iraq, said in a joint statement.

It was pointed out in the report below that most internal refugees will return home on their own, if they feel conditions are safe. That is not happening in Iraq.

Displaced women dig in their heels

Displaced Iraqi women are reluctant to return home, despite relatively improved security in the country and the tough conditions in camps, because of continuing uncertainties, says an NGO advocating for displaced people. “Iraqi women will resist returning home, even if conditions improve in Iraq, if there is no focus on securing their rights as women and assuring their personal security and their families’ well-being,” the Washington-based Refugees International (RI) stated in a field report released on 15 July. The RI report covered internally displaced women in Iraq’s semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region and female refugees in Syria and concluded: “Not one woman interviewed by RI indicated her intention to return.” ….. “This tent is more comfortable than a palace in Baghdad; my family is safe here,” a displaced woman in northern Iraq told RI.

Internal Iraqi refugees are living in squalor, according to this May 2009 report cited below. One error in the report is the claim of the number of Iraqis who died in the civil war – it was not tens of thousands, it was hundreds of thousands. These people are living in tents, with no running water (it is trucked in), no electricity and a horrible stench hanging over the place. They receive no financial assistance. Jobs are nearly impossible to come by.

Displaced Iraqis lead fractured lives

Jaffar and 400 other Iraqi Arabs have lived here in a squalid camp, along a road that seems to lead nowhere, since they were driven from their homes in the sectarian bloodshed that plunged the country into chaos in 2006 and 2007. The camp illustrates some of the problems Iraq faces as it attempts to build the institutions of a modern state: Although there is a semblance of peace, the country remains riddled with fault lines of sect and ethnicity, and saddled with competing authorities. Jaffar and his neighbors live at the intersection of those realities. They cannot return home, and they cannot rebuild their lives, a situation that threatens to make a temporary solution permanent.

Iraq has witnessed many tragedies, with tens of thousands dead in what amounted to a civil war. But added to the hardship of these displaced Iraqis is a feeling of helplessness. In a no man's land in the suburbs of this city in the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq, the families deem themselves the victims of Kurdish officials who have no interest in helping them and a distant government in Baghdad whose authority falls too short to provide assistance here. Humanitarian agencies complain that they encountered difficulties when they tried to help.

…… That sense of abandonment, heightened by the sometimes arbitrary realities of geography and politics, courses through the camp.

Some of the Palestinians who lived in Iraq at the time of the US invasion are now internal refugees in a ‘no-man’s-land’ between Iraq and Syria. Here is a report from July 2009 on their situation:

Palestinian Refugees from Iraq

"The situation in Iraq is difficult for everyone, but Palestinians in particular," Kristele Younes, a senior advocate at Refugees International, which has been working on resettling the refugees for over two years, told IPS. "These people are stateless, they don't have any papers, (and) many have been living in Iraq for decades." Many were forced to flee their homes after receiving death threats. The number of Palestinians in Iraq has fallen from around 34,000, before the U.S. invasion, to an estimated 15,000. Of these, 2,642 are living in "dire conditions" in camps on the Syrian-Iraq border, the State Department spokesman said. They have been receiving assistance from the U.S. through UNHCR since 2006.

Al-Tanfcamp is located in the "no-man's land" on the border between Syria and Iraq. According to Amnesty International, "Living conditions in the camp are difficult, with temperatures in the summer reaching 50 degrees or more. The camp is very close to a highway, which makes it dangerous, especially for children." After a fire in the camp severely burned 25 people, a UNHCR official declared: "This is the second time a fire has broken out in this camp. It is an example of how inappropriate and dangerous this place is for humans to live in and underlines the need to move these refugees to an appropriate and safe place," according to the Amnesty report. Frelick, who visited a camp outside Jordan, said the refugees were "basically desperate, scared, miserable and ready to just get out of Iraq".

The article reports that these refugees may be admitted to the US. They have been rejected by both Syria and Jordan, and some have already been relocated in South American countries, as well as in Sweden, Iceland and Canada.

Some of the internally displaced went to Karbala. This report is from October 2009.

16,000 displaced families in Karbala – governor

A total of 16,000 displaced families are currently living in Karbala province, whose total population has reached 1.2 million, the province’s governor said on Wednesday. …Only 1,650 families have returned to their places of origin, the governor noted. Displaced families are welcomed into the province, but the large number of internally displaced persons imposes a heavier load on the services in the province, the governor pointed out.

This poem was written by an Iraqi who was internally displaced. I got a paper copy and retyped it here.

In Search for a Home

Displaced Iraqis – a nuisance over and over….

Will we ever have “homes” again?

A “home” that is safe.

A “home” that has electricity.

A “home that has water.

A “home” that we can live in as normal people live in their homes.

A “home” to come back to after a long day’s work.

A “home” in which a family can sit to have a meal together, listen to music, joke about the day’s events – even to fight our little fights in the privacy of our “homes”.

There is a craving in my heart to have a “home” again – but we are not destined to have homes any more.

Twice displaced because of the violence.

Again displaced because of no water or electricity, and the dangerous proximity of a recruitment and training post for police.

Again and again displaced – and regardless of all displacement we fight the good fight to stay on our feet, to work, to provide, to teach our kids not to hate and do our utmost that they should not fall behind in their studies – to give a semblance of normalcy to their lives that have been torn to shreds….

We try hard…..

We do our best….. but our best is not enough.

Maybe I can find a temporary home in a “safe” neighborhood if only someone would point one out to me. To have found a perch sheltered from the winds of violence for a while was good.

How can I forgive….. How can I forget….

But the journey continues, and my search for a home resumes…..

~ Sahar


Afghanistan has had some return of refugees who went to foreign countries (mainly Pakistan and Iran) during the Taliban years. These folks generally returned in 2001 and 2002, but some Afghans were forced to return from Iran in later years. Many of them are still living in squatter camps, where they have little or no services.

Afghanistan – current humanitarian situation

While all Afghans suffer from the government’s poor capacity and the country’s lack of services, Afghan returnees and internally displaced have been neglected and are particularly vulnerable.

…. Since 2002, in the largest refugee return process ever, over five million Afghans have gone home, the vast majority from neighboring Pakistan and Iran. More than half of these returns took place within the first two years, as Afghans seized the opportunity to rebuild their lives and their country following the fall of the Taliban regime.

…..Armed conflict and natural disasters have displaced around 270,000 Afghans, including more than 100,000 in the south where it is most difficult to deliver assistance.

More Afghans have joined these camps because of fighting in their villages which drove them out. They feel they cannot return because of the violence and insecurity.

Democracy Now had a report on Afghanistan’s recent elections and the report included footage of internally displaced people living in squatter camps. The story was on the recent election and the warlords who helped Karzai “win” that election. The video of the squatter camps shows thousands of small, short mud huts. These people fled there village because of Dostum, a warlord and war criminal. They live in dire poverty.

“Return of the Warlords”

The UN says that 17,000 families, around 75,000 people from Dostum’s region in northern Afghanistan, are now crowded into these low mud brick buildings. There is no work here, no hospitals and no schools.

…. These Pashtun refugees say that Dostum ruled in the north as a warlord, that they were targeted by his Uzbek militia, who saw them both as ethnic enemies and as potential threats to Dostum’s power. They say that his men looted their villages and their livestock, killed his political opponents, and drove them from their land by force.

In the article below, Refugee International details what is happening and what needs to happen. This report is from July 2009.

Afghanistan: Open Eyes to Humanitarian Needs

The UN and donors must increase budgets for humanitarian assistance and support the recently re-established UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). They must address the needs of vulnerable Afghans, including the internally displaced and the returnees, and the UN Development Program must devise a country-wide early recovery strategy. The international community must also look to resolve the root causes of the problems by putting the protection of civilians at the center of its involvement in Afghanistan, in collaboration with the Afghan government.

The situation for Afghans continues to get worse. Some areas of the country are now ‘no-go’ zones for aid workers. From the same article as above:

Security is only one of many challenges that humanitarians face in Afghanistan. There are other major causes of the lack of adequate humanitarian response. First, the UN is reluctant to acknowledge the scope of the humanitarian situation. In particular, it is politically difficult for the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) to discuss the humanitarian consequences of the armed conflict when it has been mandated to support the Afghan government, a party to the conflict. Other UN actors are intimidated from raising humanitarian issues in this politicized context.

…… Second, dedicated humanitarian funding remains scarce. The humanitarian appeal of $604 million, launched on February 3, 2009, is well funded, but over 52 percent of the appeal addresses food security, and most pledges have gone to the World Food Program’s (WFP) operations. Major humanitarian donors still have very limited budgets compared to the main development players.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, there is a lack of humanitarian actors in Afghanistan. Most NGOs get the majority of their funding for development projects, as donors have emphasized this sector over the past few years. As many donors are looking to fund projects in the areas where their troops are located, development has been used since 2001 as a tool for counter-insurgency activities instead of being focused on responding to needs alone.

Political considerations are driving this – not a concern for what is best for the Afghan people.


It was not noted much in the corporate press here in the USA, but Pakistan had a refugee crisis from the fighting in Swat Valley that was extensive. People were forced to flee for their lives with nothing but the clothes on their backs. A large number of these refugees were taken in by relatives, friends and even strangers. Some of the people taking them in were very poor themselves. That left about 200,000 Pakistani refugees staying in refugee camps – a small portion of the more than 2 million refugees inside Pakistan. This refugee crisis started this past spring and summer, and at this time, some of the refugees have returned to their homes. The trauma they have faced is almost overwhelming.

The following two articles are about the refugee crisis in Pakistan earlier this year, which is still ongoing, but about 1.6 million have returned home in the last few months (out of a total of 2.7 million who were displaced).

In Pakistan, an exodus that is beyond biblical

The language was already biblical; now the scale of what is happening matches it. The exodus of people forced from their homes in Pakistan's Swat Valley and elsewhere in the country's north-west may be as high as 2.4 million, aid officials say. Around the world, only a handful of war-spoiled countries – Sudan, Iraq, Colombia – have larger numbers of internal refugees. The speed of the displacement at its height – up to 85,000 people a day – was matched only during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. This is now one of the biggest sudden refugee crises the world has ever seen.

…. In these "homestay" situations, some that exist purely because of tribal links between the displaced and those opening their doors, anywhere from 10 to 15 people are crowded into one room. A single latrine is shared by, on average, 35 people. Aid groups have called for a large and immediate injection of funds to help these host families who have stood forward to help those with nothing. Graham Strong, the country director of the charity World Vision, said: "Families have provided refuge for up to 90 per cent of those escaping the fighting. They are sharing their homes, food, clothes and water. They are poor already and are making themselves poorer in the process. As the disaster continues, hosts are having to sell their land, cattle and other assets at far less than the market value to keep providing for their guests. The cultural ethic of generosity and hospitality means hosts are now facing the agonising choice between asking guests to leave and becoming destitute and displaced themselves."

Pakistan: Millions of displaced people face discrimination and cannot access aid, warns Amnesty

More than two million people who have fled fighting in northwestern Pakistan do not have access to aid distributed in official displacement camps, Amnesty International warned today. Ethnic Pashtuns who have fled fighting also face discrimination from host communities, said Amnesty, as it called on the Pakistani government to ensure that ethnic Pashtuns fleeing to other provinces of Pakistan are not discriminated against.

…….Nearly 90 per cent of the displaced people do not have access to organised camps and live in extremely overcrowded conditions with host communities or in existing slums and abandoned buildings. Amnesty International has documented numerous instances of three or four families sharing one household, greatly straining the ability of host communities to provide sufficient food and clean water for everyone.

The UN has distributed aid packages to 600 Afghan refugees who have fled to Peshawar in Pakistan this past July, due to the violence in the Northwest Tribal Areas. They report that there are 70,000 Afghan refugees in Peshawar. This situation does illustrate a horrible fact of life for many refugees – the trauma of having to move again and again in order to find safety. Here is what one man said about the violence in Pakistan:

UNHCR distributes aid to Afghan refugees affected by conflict in Pakistan

"The bombardment in nearby villages reminded me of the conflict in Afghanistan," said Atiqullah, a 50-year-old refugee from Kabul. "We had to run for our lives then and now, once again, after living in Swat for years, we had to run again." Atiqullah lives with his cousin on the outskirts of Peshawar after fleeing his home in the Swat district town of Matta. Ahmadullah fled to Pakistan with his parents and siblings from eastern Afghanistan's Kunar province when he was a child of seven. "I only remember that we had to walk for hours and I was very tired," he recalled. Today, some 30 years later, he is staying with relatives near Peshawar after fleeing the Swat district capital of Mingora, where he has a small grocery store.

Since September 1, 2009, there has been another refugee crisis in Pakistan. Tens of thousands have fled from the Khyber Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Area. The root cause of this exodus is the same as the one from Swat Valley – the Pakistani military started up a military offensive against the Taliban (or, at least some of the Taliban).

Tens of thousands displaced from Khyber Agency - official

“Over 100,000 people have arrived in Peshawar since the military mounted an offensive,” NWFP information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told the media. ……The most recent report on internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Pakistan by the Logistics Cluster, an inter-agency aid coordination mechanism involving key UN and non-UN humanitarian partners, issued on 11 September, said “hundreds of families” were fleeing the Khyber Agency and 3,000 families had registered at camps in Peshawar, the NWFP capital. Most people arriving from the Khyber Agency have chosen to move in with relatives.

….. The army has been battling militants in northwestern Pakistan for several months, leading to the displacement of some two million people.

In the article above, the UN noted that the aid money promised to help these refugees has mainly not been collected. A more recent report says that Saudi Arabia has donated $100 US for internally displaced persons in Pakistan. They are the largest contributor so far.

Now, what DOES that say about the US and our priorities? Do we want Pakistan to engage in military offenses against the Taliban or not? Do we care one whit for what happens to the civilians on the ground?

Well, just from looking at how LITTLE we helped Iraqi and Afghan refugees (either internal or external), I guess the clear answer is that we JUST DON’T GIVE A SHIT.

If you support the continued occupation of Iraq or Afghanistan, or the bombing of Pakistan, then you support WHAT WAR BRINGS: internally displaced people.

Afghan Refugees get relief, thanks to you….

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