As fighting intensifies between Taliban militants and US-led international and government forces in Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has called on aid agencies and government bodies to assist displaced civilians.
“All government bodies in Helmand Province and in the neighbouring provinces are hereby instructed to provide emergency assistance, including temporary settlement and emergency food aid, to people who are displaced as a result of the recent joint military operation,” said a statement issued by Karzai’s office on 8 July.
About 4,000 US marines accompanied by hundreds of Afghan forces launched Operation Khanjar on 2 July to try to extend the writ of the government in several insecure districts.
Abraham Sipe, a US military spokesman in Helmand, told IRIN the operation was being carefully implemented to minimize the impacts of war on civilians.
“Thus far we have not heard of civilian displacement and casualty,” said Sipe, adding that the marines would continue to act cautiously.
In a Tactical Directive issued on 6 July by Gen Stanley McChrystal, the new commander of international forces in Afghanistan, all forces (including US forces operating outside NATO’s command) have been ordered to “scrutinize and limit” the use of aerial strikes, particularly in residential areas.
Gholam Mohammad, director of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) branch in Helmand, told IRIN it was unclear how many people had left their homes because of the conflict.
“People have been displaced from different districts all over the province but we don’t know their exact numbers,” said Mohammad, adding that every day hundreds of people had been contacting the ARCS office for assistance.
“Displacement is a common trend in Helmand. People often abandon their homes and seek temporary shelter somewhere and when the conflict is over they return to their areas,” he said.
Backed by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the Ministry of Refugees and Returnees Affairs (MoRRA) has been opposing the establishment of new camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). Officials say in order to curb internal displacement and prevent a protracted emergency, new camps must not be established.
Over 235,000 IDPs currently live in camps in Helmand, Kandahar, Herat and Nangarhar provinces, according to UNHCR.
However, the call for “temporary settlement”, as demanded in President Karzai’s decree, seems to run counter to MoRRA policy not to set up new IDP camps.
No one in the MoRRA was immediately available for comment on the president’s order but in the past officials have repeatedly acknowledged their inability to reach, protect and assist all IDPs because of the lack of resources and insecurity.
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
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