Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Continuing Conflict, Continuing Displacement in Southern Afghanistan

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Continuing Conflict, Continuing Displacement in Southern Afghanistan

Article excerpt

Thousands of families from Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan and a number of other provinces in southern Afghanistan have reportedly recently returned to their home districts from the cities where they had sought refuge for months and even years. However, the conditions that forced them to flee are still prevalent in many places and to a significant degree, meaning that many people continue to be displaced. This pattern will persist, with some families electing to stay in cities until the underlying security concerns are addressed.

Many families originally fled because of the expansion of military operations of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and the International Military Forces (IMF) as a result of the 2009 military 'surge', increased door-to-door searches and harassment triggering fear of arrest and generally making daily life difficult, and inability to cultivate their fields either because their lands had been taken over by international forces in order to establish military bases or because they were not allowed to cultivate their fields around military bases because of security concerns. Those who have returned to their homes have done so because of the high cost of living in the city and shortage of employment opportunities in an unfamiliar, urban environment. Additionally, anticipating a short stay, many never fully integrated into city life.

Places such as Chahar China district in Uruzgan Province experienced an inflow of IDPs from Kandahar City, Lashker Gha City, Nimruz and even Pakistan when ANSF and IMF forces withdrew from the area. Moreover, the pattern of returnees to a number of other areas suggests that IDPs await the withdrawal of these forces as a first step towards having the confidence to return home.

Landscape of conflict and displacement

The patterns and prevalence of displacement vary depending on the current conflict landscape. In areas considered as contested areas - contested between ANSF/IMF and non-state armed actors - displacement is generally higher. In these locations, where day-to-day fighting occurs, large numbers of residents will flee to escape the fighting and also because they are unable to go to work or to cultivate or irrigate their lands. These contested districts will probably continue to be the areas from which most IDPs will originate in the coming two years in southern Afghanistan. Residents will re-evaluate their situation continuously, as they have done in the past; if they believe that the fighting will only go on for relatively short periods of time (up to two weeks), then they will go only as far as the nearest secure village with their family and, if possible, their livestock and some basic provisions. On the other hand, in heavily contested areas, residents will prepare for leaving their villages for the long term, usually to one of the major urban centres in the south or even to Kabul or to Quetta in Pakistan; these IDPs will seldom be able to take their possessions or livestock with them.

Additionally, many families leave due to fear of being killed in retaliation. When interviewed, local residents from Zhari district of Kandahar Province said that if a government soldier dies, then government forces accuse the locals of cooperating with or helping the Taliban - and take revenge accordingly. Likewise, if someone from the Taliban side dies, they search the village for an alleged spy to punish.

In contested areas, Taliban forces often plant IEDs1 on main roads to block the ANSF or IMF; they may inform locals about which roads to avoid - but the locals need use of these roads too, and this is yet another reason for displacement. …

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