|More than 10,000 people have been displaced from Marjah and Nad Ali over the past 10 days|
KABUL, 17 February 2010 (IRIN) – The government and aid agencies have decided not to set up a camp for hundreds of families displaced by fighting between pro-government forces and the Taliban in the Marjah area of the southern province of Helmand.
“We don’t want to make this a protracted emergency where people would remain in a camp indefinitely,” Dawood Ahmadi, a spokesman of the Helmand governor, told IRIN.
Just over 10,000 people (1,573 families) arrived in the provincial capital of Lashkargah in the past 10 days as a major offensive in Nad Ali District by NATO and Afghan government forces got under way, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
“Most of the IDPs [internally displaced persons] have been accommodated by relatives and friends in Lashkargah and some live in rented rooms,” Farooq Noorzai, head of the provincial department of refugee affairs, told IRIN.
UNHCR, which relies on information it receives from local partners including the department of refugee affairs, said there had been no “significant” shelter problem facing IDPs in Lashkargah.
|We don’t want to make this a protracted emergency where people would remain in a camp indefinitely|
“IDP families are not living in the open air and at this point, the modest scale of displacement does not require the distribution of tents by UNHCR,” said Nader Farhad, UNHCR’s spokesman in Kabul.
Mohammad Anwar Isaaqzai, a representative from Helmand in the National Assembly, said the decision not to open a new camp in Lashkargah was taken in consultation with IDPs. There is currently only one IDP camp near Lashkargah city – Mukhtar camp.
“People are not interested in staying in camps for long… They just want to return to their homes soon,” he told IRIN on the phone from Lashkargah.
The conflict in and around the towns of Marjah and Nad Ali has also forced 110 families to seek refuge in Helmand’s Nawa District, while 300 families have reportedly crossed the provincial border into Khashrod District in neighboring Nimruz Province, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) reported on 16 February.
UNHCR said IDPs in Nimruz have been given shelter by the district authorities and that urgent need for shelter had not been reported thus far.
The government said that together with aid agencies it had distributed food and non-food aid items to about 800 displaced families and would respond to the immediate needs of other IDPs soon.
|A map of Afghanistan highlighting the restive southern province of Hilmand (also spelt Helmand)|
However, some people claiming to be IDPs from Nad Ali and Marjah were very unhappy: “We have received nothing and we don’t know who gives what and where,” said one man, Gul Ahmad.
Government officials called on IDPs to be patient.
“Together with representatives from local councils we first identify IDPs from Marjah and Nad Ali and then provide assistance,” said Noorzai, head of the refugee department.
UN agencies had adequate food and non-food aid stocked in Lashkargah and additional aid could be brought in if necessary, according to OCHA.
UN agencies are not on the ground in Helmand but use local NGOs and government bodies to distribute aid.
Meanwhile, a local rights watchdog has expressed concern about civilian casualties in the fighting.
“As the operation goes on, the civilian people in Nad Ali are facing tremendous risks and predicaments,” the Afghanistan Rights Monitor said in a statement on 16 February. “Afghan and NATO forces must complete their military operation in Helmand’s Nad Ali District soon and help local communities regain access to essential services and resume their normal life.”
Afghan and NATO officials have said their joint military operation in Nad Ali District, which began on 13 February, could take several weeks to complete.