Charities warn over Afghan children deaths

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 NGOs including Amnesty International has said.

Last winter was unusually cold in Afghanistan, and more than a 100 people, mostly children, died in refugee camps from the cold or illness.

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.

Speaking from Kabul, where she is discussing the situation of displaced people with the Afghan government, Polly Truscott, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme, said: “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.

“Afghanistan and the international community should remember that taking steps to safeguard lives in these camps is an obligation under international law.”

With conflict and insecurity rising in Afghanistan, the country’s displaced population has reached a record half a million according to the UNHCR, though the actual number is likely to be much higher.

The Afghan government has started to develop a welcome national internally displaced persons policy after last year’s crisis, and requested international support to finalise and implement this policy.

Polly Truscott said: “The drafting of the new internally displaced persons 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.”

The organisations pointed out that the 2011 budget of only US$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 per cent funded, while the Emergency Response Fund was also depleted.

Polly Truscott concluded: “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.

“The protection concerns of internally displaced people must be addressed as a matter of urgency, as transition gathers pace.”

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