Islamic Republic of Iran
The most recent overview of the numbers of refugees and displaced people in Asia (as of end of 1998) estimates that there are 4.7 million refugees on the continent. Over 1.2 million of these were Afghans in Pakistan and Iran (1.4 million). There are reported to be approximately 500,000 Iraqis in Iran. Comprehensive figures on the number of displaced in Asia are unavailable.
This section of the report gives updated information on some of these situations. The current nutritional situation of the Afghan refugees/displaced persons is described. Information on the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal and refugees from Myanmar in Bangladesh is also included. There is also information on the situation of displaced groups in West and East Timor, although this section is not comprehensive.
There has been on-going conflict in Afghanistan for the last twenty years, leading to massive displacements both within Afghanistan, and as refugee movements, into Iran and Pakistan. Ten years after the withdrawal of the last Soviet soldiers in 1989, armed conflict between opposing political factions still continues. Currently the Taliban control approximately 85% of the country, and the Northern Alliance forces, led by Commander Ahmad Shad Masood, control about 15%.
The UN is assisting approximately 300,000 IDPs in Kabul, Panjshir, Hazarajat, Dara Souf, Kunduz, and Khojar Ghar (OCHA - 07/12/99). In 1999, food aid has been distributed to approximately 60,000 vulnerable households in the central highlands and to some 8,000 households in the northeast of the country. Vulnerable groups are provided with food through urban bakeries, institutional feeding programmes in hospitals, orphanages and health centres, and through food-for-work activities (FAO/GIEWS - 03/11/99).
The RNIS has not received any new nutritional surveys or assessments concerning the displaced populations in Afghanistan during the reporting period.
Cross-border trade restrictions with Pakistan
Restrictive measures on cross-border trade imposed by the Pakistani authorities since the military coup in Pakistan on 12 October 1999 have been closely linked with a dramatic increase in wheat flour prices in several major urban centres across Afghanistan. The restrictions come at the end of a year where cereal production was poor in Afghanistan, and it is estimated that the welfare of up to 2 million people may be seriously threatened if restrictions on commercial wheat flour trade from Pakistan to Afghanistan continue. There is particular concern that the most vulnerable households (e.g.: those headed by women, older persons, the handicapped and the unemployed) will be the most seriously affected by the restrictions, given the greater predominance of wheat in their diet (OCHA -23/11/99; WFP-10/12/99).
In the Panjshir valley there are an estimated 65,000 IDPs who were displaced from the Shomali in August and September. There are indications that the number of IDPs may be reducing due to the cold weather and improved security situation. Fifty thousand people are in need of food and a further 30,000 require shelter. UN negotiations with the Taliban to allow the establishment of a humanitarian corridor from Kabul to Panjshir have succeeded, and the first convoy has successfully made the trip. However, access to the displaced population in the winter months continues to be problematic, as only one of the two passes into the valley is open sporadically when weather conditions permit (OCHA - 23/11/99,07/12/99; WFP - 29/10/99).
Some 16,000 IDPs, 10,000 of whom are children, are housed in the ex-Soviet compound. A one-off distribution of non-food items has been given to this group and WFP and the local authorities continue to provide food assistance (CSB and bread). The situation in the compound is reported to have improved significantly since August when the IDPs first occupied the building (OCHA - 07/12/99; WFP -10/12/99).
The IDPs who have sought refuge with their relatives or have rented rooms or squatted in empty homes in the city are now of more concern than those in the Soviet compound. This is particularly true during the winter months when the need for shelter and heating intensifies. It is difficult to estimate the exact numbers of these people, although more than 20,000 families were registered entering Kabul between August and October (OCHA - 17/11/99, 07/12/99).
The most recent nutritional survey in Kabul estimated the prevalence of wasting and/or oedema at 8.7% among children (see RNIS 27).
Darra Souf, Samangan Province
A UN assessment of Darra Souf in October reported that up to 35,000 people may still be displaced in the area as a result of fighting. A further 14,000 have left the area. The displaced are spread out in different villages; some living with friends and relatives and others occupying makeshift shelters and caves. Most were able to take some possessions with them when they fled the fighting, but the poorest have largely exhausted whatever resources they had. As many as 1,000 households may require immediate food and non-food assistance. In addition, WFP will provide the displaced with wheat (OCHA -14/10/99, 26/10/99; WFP -10/12/99).
Between March and May some 115,000 people were displaced in Bamiyan fleeing to the neighbouring provinces, Kabul, north Afghanistan and Pakistan. From June to September some 87,000 people returned to their places of origin while about 28,000 continue to be displaced. There is a high level of conflict-related damage in the area, almost no potato or wheat crops were harvested and the population have lost most of their assets. Principal needs include emergency food assistance, employment opportunities for those who rely on cash income or have lost heir crop, reconstruction of houses, and agricultural inputs. WFP has completed the first round of distributions to those who have returned to their homes (OCHA -14/10/99).
UNHCR provides indirect assistance to 1.2 million people in at least 200 refugee villages in Pakistan. UNHCR helps to sustain government activities in health and education by providing medicine and salaries etc. There are no reports on a change in the adequate nutritional status of the approximately 320,000 Afghani refugees requiring food assistance in Pakistan. The remaining refugees have established themselves in Pakistan and are considered to be self-reliant and self-sufficient.
Voluntary repatriation from Pakistan to Afghanistan is ongoing. The refugees are provided with wheat, plastic sheeting and an entitlement of cash. The repatriation programme from Pakistan is slowing down due to the winter. An estimated 15,500 families (88,500 individuals) received repatriation grants and returned from Pakistan to Afghanistan in 1999 (OCHA-23/11/99).
An estimated 1.4 million Afghan refugees and some 500,000 Iraqi refugees remain in the Islamic Republic of Iran. After the recent hostilities (1998/9) between Afghanistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran, most Afghan refugees have been under pressure to leave the country, and many have been forced out. Between January and September UNHCR has registered 41,000 people who crossed into Afghanistan. This includes those who benefited from organised repatriation, individual voluntary returnees and deportees. Deportees make up almost one third of 41,000 people who have returned. Among the deportees, women and children in particular are faced with shelter problems, inability to make contact with family members left in the Islamic Republic of Iran and difficulty in finding relatives in Afghanistan. This is particularly so for those whose original homes were in the north or in distant parts of Afghanistan (OCHA -19/10/99).
UNHCR has observed the forcible return of Afghan families during the reporting period (OCHA - 23/11/99).
There have been no new nutritional surveys conducted among the refugee population in the Islamic Republic of Iran during the reporting period. The most recent WHO report suggested that their nutritional situation was not critical, although this may change (see RNIS 28).
Overall, the IDPs in Afghanistan are nutritionally vulnerable (category III), although those in the Panjshir valley are considered to be at heightened risk (category II). The nutritional situation of the refugees in the Islamic Republic of Iran and Pakistan remains uncritical (category IV).