Still at Risk: Forced Evictions in Urban Afghanistan

By Howard, Caroline; Madzarevic, Jelena | Forced Migration Review, May 2014 | Go to article overview

Still at Risk: Forced Evictions in Urban Afghanistan


Howard, Caroline, Madzarevic, Jelena, Forced Migration Review


Some 630,000 Afghans are internally displaced due to conflict and the country still struggles with the reintegration of over 5.7 million former refugees. Up to 30% of Afghans currently live in urban settings, the majority in informal settlements in or around the major cities.1 Rapid urban growth has been fuelled by the repatriation of refugees, the arrival of IDPs fleeing conflict and disasters, and economic migration from rural areas. As Afghanistan faces an unpredictable future, achieving durable solutions for IDPs and refugee returnees remains contingent upon the provision of adequate housing, including security of tenure. Lacking affordable housing options, vulnerable urban IDP and returnee families occupy private and public land without permission or without officially recognised land deeds. This exposes them to sub-standard living conditions and constant risk of forced eviction as landowners or government authorities seek to remove them to build housing, roads or offices.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) with its Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) has reviewed 16 eviction cases from informal settlements in and around the cities where NRC has an established field presence: Kabul, Herat, Jalalabad, Mazar-e-Sharif, Maimana and Farah.2 The cases (recorded between November 2010 and June 2013) involve IDP and returnee families occupying public or private land without permission or with unrecognised customary deeds.

Protection gaps and policy shortcomings

Approximately 9,600 families (57,400 individuals) in the sampled communities were estimated to have been affected in total, including 557 families subjected to forced evictions. Both recently arrived and longer-term residents are at risk.

There are numerous protection gaps at all stages of eviction, including: disregard for rights to consultation and participation; inadequate and widely varying notice periods and procedures; lack of effective legal remedies and compensation whether or not those evicted hold legal title to their homes or have other forms of tenure; and, above all, failure to put in place effective relocation options to prevent homelessness, and increased vulnerability after eviction.

Despite existing Constitutional guarantees against undue interference with home and property, the cases reveal serious gaps in national law. Afghanistan is party to binding international standards that require Afghanistan to refrain from, and to penalise, forced evictions. As a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,3 Afghanistan must ensure that all persons enjoy at least basic elements of the right to adequate housing, including "a degree of security of tenure which guarantees legal protection against forced eviction". As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,4 the country is obliged to respect the right to privacy against unlawful or arbitrary interference with personal and family life, including home, irrespective of the (il)legality of the residence. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women5 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child6 (Afghanistan is a signatory to both) provide similar obligations with regard to women and children as the primary eviction-affected categories.

The pace of urbanisation necessitates new land governance systems - particularly the regulation of informal settlements which the authorities have been reluctant to acknowledge. This situation is compounded for the IDPs whose right to choose their place of settlement is seldom recognised by provincial and municipal authorities. The displaced rarely wish to leave the towns and cities where they now live, and yet policymakers typically link long-term solutions to the return 'home'. The primary relocation option presented to IDPs and returnees who face eviction is the government's 2005 Land Allocation Scheme (LAS) but researchers found very limited evidence of sustainable relocation to LAS sites due to poor site selection, restrictive eligibility criteria and relatively high land fees. …

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