In a battered lecture theatre at the end of a muddy track in Pol-e Khomri, a small town in Baghlan province in northeast Afghanistan, 40 local men and eight women are learning to how to get to grips with some of the country's thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs). The group is being trained in how to register and interview IDPs with a view to stimulating the return of an estimated 500,000 displaced throughout Afghanistan.
The programme is part of a joint initiative between the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Afghan government to begin returning some of the 24,000 IDPs in Baghlan province to their villages of origin. There's no one system for returning IDPs, but the training in Pol-e Khomri is part of a provincial strategy to let the displaced know they now have some options.
"This is all about getting to the thousands of IDPs round here and letting them know that if they want to return they will be assisted for free," Chris Petch IOM's operation officer in nearby Mazar-e Sharif told IRIN. The information workers - mainly local government nominees - are being trained to identify IDP families in the local community and then tell them what their current options are.
Although the repatriation of Afghan refugees from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran is progressing well, the return of IDPs is only just beginning in a coordinated way across Afghanistan. The majority of IDPs in Baghlan fled fighting between the ousted Taliban and Northern Alliance (NA)forces and now live in a series of miserable camps near the province's main towns. Many of them are not aware of assistance programmes and this is where the information staff come in.
"IDPs as a group are very vulnerable to exploitation," Petch said. "They tend to get picked on and manipulated by people out to make money, the group we are training here will hopefully empower IDPs by giving them proper information," he explained. The information workers would be rapidly followed by registration teams. Once there's accurate information about who wants to go back where, an action plan can be formulated to get people back home.
"The (IDPs) people say they will not go until there are hospitals, schools and work, so what do we tell them?" one participant asked. Reena Ghelani, a UNAMA protection officer leading the training session in Pol-e Khomri told IRIN that the programme was based on surveying the villages the IDPs fled and ensuring programmes are in place to rebuild infrastructure. "Obviously not everything can be put in place straight away, but we ensure there's a commitment from agencies or donors to put in basic facilities," she said.
From behind her all-enveloping burka, Mira, one of the new information workers, told IRIN that the campaign was of great importance in combating misinformation, particularly in relation to widows and female-led households. "Many women (IDPs) are told they have to pay money to go home. Now we can help by saying this is not true," she said.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions