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(Washington, D.C.) -- Urgent steps are needed if Afghanistan is to avoid a repeat of the deaths among children and adults in the country’s displacement camps that occurred during last year’s bitterly cold winter conditions, a coalition of 30 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including Amnesty International said.
The 2011-2012 winter was unusually cold in Afghanistan, and more than 100 people, mostly children, died in refugee camps from the cold or illness.
“What happened last year was a preventable tragedy, and should act as a sharp reminder that emergency assistance must be provided immediately before the winter arrives,” said Polly Truscott, director of the Asia-Pacific program at Amnesty International, who is currently in Kabul to discuss the internally displaced persons (IDP) situation with the Afghan government and the donor community.
In an open letter to the UN, the Afghan government and international donors, Amnesty International, the Norwegian Refugee Council and 28 other NGOs, called for the immediate launch of a winter assistance campaign to safeguard the lives of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons.
“Afghanistan and the international community should remember that taking steps to safeguard lives in these camps is an obligation under international law,” Truscott said.
With conflict and insecurity rising in Afghanistan, the country’s displaced population has reached a record half a million according to the United Nations Human Rights Council, though the actual number is likely to be much higher.
The Afghan government has started to develop a welcome national IDP policy after last year’s crisis, and requested international support to finalize and implement this policy.
“The drafting of the new IDP policy is a positive step that shows a commitment to address the vulnerable situation of those displaced, but such policies take time to design and money to implement. What is needed now is urgent action,” said Truscott.
The organizations pointed out that the 2011 budget of only $6 million for Afghanistan’s Ministry for Refugees and Repatriation was not enough to address even the most basic assistance and protection needs. Furthermore, the international humanitarian appeal for Afghanistan had only been 34 percent funded, while the Emergency Response Fund was also depleted.
“The uncertainty among many Afghan people over the drawdown of international forces and the political, security, social and economic impact of transition is likely to trigger further internal displacement, particularly if security conditions do not improve in the short-term,” said Truscott. “The protection concerns of IDPs must be addressed as a matter of urgency, as transition gathers pace.”
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.