Last Updated: Friday, 24 November 2017, 11:39 GMT

Global Overview 2011: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Afghanistan

Publisher Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC)
Publication Date 19 April 2012
Cite as Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC), Global Overview 2011: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Afghanistan, 19 April 2012, available at: [accessed 24 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Quick facts
Number of IDPsAt least 450,000
Percentage of total populationAt least 1.4%
Start of current displacement situation2001
Peak number of IDPs (Year)1,200,000 (2002)
New displacementAbout 186,000
Causes of displacementArmed conflict, generalised violence, human rights violations
Human development index172

According to UNHCR and the Afghan government, at least 450,000 people remained internally displaced in Afghanistan at the end of 2011 due to continued armed conflict, widespread human rights violations and generalised violence. This figure was the highest since 2002, and almost double the estimated number of IDPs in 2008; however it was widely considered to under-represent the magnitude of forced displacement, as it excluded IDPs dispersed in many inaccessible locations and also in more accessible urban and semi-urban areas.

The primary cause of displacement was, as in previous years, the armed conflict between the Afghan National Security Forces and international military forces on the one side, and Taliban and other armed opposition groups on the other. Other causes included targeted attacks, intimidation and forced recruitment by armed groups, as well as inter-ethnic disputes and local conflicts over access to land and water.

Approximately 186,000 people were newly displaced by conflict and violence in 2011, compared to 102,000 during 2010. This increase occurred against a backdrop of decades of war, chronic poverty, frequent natural disasters and extreme weather. Few parts of the country remained immune from displacement as the conflict continued to spread from the southern, eastern, and western regions to the centre, north and north-west. Meanwhile, the ongoing closures of refugee camps in Pakistan and the insecurity there, coupled with the deportation from Iran of unregistered Afghan refugees, continued to reduce cross-border displacement options for many Afghans.

While some IDPs had sought the support of relatives and tribal networks, most of those who could be reached by humanitarian actors were living either in camps or camp-like settings or in informal settlements near urban areas. IDPs increasingly sought the relative protection of cities where shelter and livelihoods were perceived to be more accessible. A 2011 World Bank-UNHCR study revealed that urban IDPs were more vulnerable and worse-off than the non-displaced urban poor, as they were particularly affected by unemployment, lack of access to proper housing and food insecurity. Only one third surveyed had access to electricity, adequate water supplies and sanitation facilities.

IDPs facing particular threats included disabled and older people, children and female heads of households, whose resources and coping abilities were often limited by traditional codes of social seclusion. Children, who accounted for 60 per cent of the conflict-induced displaced population, were at risk of child labour, forced recruitment, sexual violence and trafficking. Internally displaced children in makeshift shelters have also died from exposure during the coldest winter periods.

Increasing numbers of IDPs have found themselves in protracted displacement as the conflict and violence persisted. 117,000 of those who fled prior to 2003 remained displaced in 2011, and reportedly few urban IDPs intended to return in the foreseeable future. Prospects of durable solutions for IDPs and refugees returning to Afghanistan after prolonged displacements were also limited by their landlessness or their inability to recover property they had left behind, and by the diminished social support mechanisms available.

A large proportion of IDPs who did try to return were subsequently forced to move again. The many obstacles which they faced upon return included persistent insecurity, damage to their property, continued disruption of livelihoods, and food insecurity. These challenges were compounded by the widespread presence of landmines and other unexploded ordnance in large areas of the country, and by the eighth year of drought in 11 years.

The government's response to internal displacement remained inadequate, mainly because of its limited control over parts of the country, its insufficient capacity and its reluctance to recognise all IDPs. Neither the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation (MoRR) nor the Afghanistan Natural Disaster Management Authority had the resources or political stature to effectively fulfil their mandates. Afghanistan had yet to develop a comprehensive legal or policy framework on internal displacement; its strategy for refugee returnees and IDPs described in the Afghanistan National Development Strategy for 2008-2013 promotes the return of IDPs over their local integration or their settlement elsewhere.

The response to the humanitarian needs of IDPs remained greatly impaired by limited access to IDPs and returnees, insufficient funding and the lack of timely and reliable information.

Humanitarian activities were coordinated through the cluster system and the national and regional IDP task forces co-chaired by UNHCR and MoRR. In 2011, the national IDP Task Force worked to improve coordination with the provincial departments of refugees and repatriation, and to profile and monitor IDPs. However the impact of these mechanisms had yet to be ascertained by the end of the year.

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