Last Updated: Friday, 16 February 2018, 15:01 GMT

Global Overview 2012: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Afghanistan

Publisher Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC)
Publication Date 29 April 2013
Cite as Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC), Global Overview 2012: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Afghanistan, 29 April 2013, available at: [accessed 18 February 2018]
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.
Number of IDPsAt least 492,000
Percentage of total populationAt least 1.4%
Start of displacement situation2001
Peak number of IDPs (year)1,200,000 (2002)
New displacement in 2012At least 100,400
Causes of displacementx International armed conflict
✓ Internal armed conflict
x Deliberate policy or practice of arbitrary displacement
✓ Communal violence
x Criminal violence
x Political violence
Human development index175

With the drawdown of international military forces well underway, displacement continued to increase in 2012. The Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation (MoRR) and UNHCR put the total number of IDPs at nearly 500,000, of whom at least 100,400 were newly displaced during the year. Official figures are widely recognised to under-represent the scale of displacement as they exclude IDPs in inaccessible rural locations and urban areas. Afghanistan has experienced numerous waves of displacement since the 1970s, caused by decades of war and insecurity, natural disasters, chronic poverty and widespread human rights abuses. Following a period of relative calm after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, conflict-related displacement has more than doubled since 2008. IDPs are highly mobile, often forced into secondary or tertiary displacement or onward migration.

Armed conflict pitting the Afghan security forces and international troops against the Taliban and other armed opposition groups was the primary cause of displacement in 2012. Civilians fled from military operations, and increasingly from attacks, intimidation and other serious abuses by armed opposition groups. General insecurity, land disputes and tribal conflict were also significant factors. An estimated 75,000 IDPs have been living in displacement since before 2003.

The National IDP Task Force, which is co-chaired by MoRR and UNHCR, collates and analyses data on displacement. It found that roughly 75 per cent of IDPs were displaced in the south, east and west of the country, with many concentrated in the provinces of Herat, Nangahar, Helmand and Kandahar. In the north, displacement has increased more than five-fold since 2010, reflecting the spread of conflict across the country.

The dynamics of displacement varied significantly across the country, between urban and rural areas and within provinces. IDPs were found to be living with relatives, in camp-like settings and dispersed in host communities. Increasing numbers fled to cities and settled alongside the urban poor in informal settlements, making it harder to identify and assist them. A growing number of urban IDPs live illegally on private or state land, in substandard accommodation and at risk of eviction.

Most IDPs continue to live in extremely vulnerable situations. Many face a range of physical threats, and struggle to meet basic needs such as food, water and shelter. Half of the IDPs surveyed for a NRC/IDMC study said they spent 90 per cent of their income on food and went into debt, driven in part by larger than average households and lower income as a result of unemployment.

Female-headed households have even fewer livelihood opportunities and are particularly vulnerable. Children, who make up an estimated 64 per cent of the IDPs, are less likely to attend school and face an increased risk of child labour and forced marriage.

According to the NRC/IDMC study, less than 25 per cent of IDPs wished to return to their places of origin, even if security improved. Prospects for sustained return to rural areas are limited by insecurity, lack of employment and access to land and basic services. Urban IDPs have sought to integrate locally, but authorities have not supported them in their efforts. With few prospects for durable solutions, protracted displacement is a growing concern.

Despite increased awareness of IDPs' plight, national and international efforts to assist them remained limited. MoRR and its provincial departments led the government's response, but this was hindered by an unclear mandate, weak capacity and a shortage of funds. There was also a lack of coordination across different government ministries. The government announced its decision to develop a comprehensive national policy on IDPs during 2012, and as of the end of the year MoRR was in the drafting process with international support. This represents a key step forward in the protection of IDPs.

Humanitarian assistance was coordinated through the cluster system and by the National IDP Task Force and its regional offices, which were established in 2008. The humanitarian community prioritised emergency food and non-food items and winter assistance for the newly displaced and some urban IDPs. The response was hampered, however, by a lack of reliable and timely data, restricted access and a steep decline in funding during the year. Better cooperation between humanitarian and development organisations is required to meet longer term needs.

Efforts to improve coordination, promote principled humanitarian action, boost winter preparedness and improve systems for monitoring IDPs helped to address some of these concerns, but major gaps in assistance and protection remain.

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