Escaping to War: Where to Next? A Research Study on the Challenges of IDP Protection in Afghanistan

Samuel Hall, NRC and IDMC, 2018


A record 653,000 Afghans were internally displaced during 2016, bringing the estimated number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Afghanistan to more than 1.5 million at the end of 2016. Many IDPs have been displaced multiple times. At the same time, the humanitarian space in Afghanistan is shrinking due to escalating conflict, lack of respect for international humanitarian law, and humanitarian organizations’ overcautious approach. Consequently, outside of government-controlled areas there is little information about IDPs and most do not have access to protection or assistance. This report assesses the causes of prolonged and multiple displacement in Afghanistan and identifies the protection challenges confronting IDPs, based on quantitative and qualitative data collected from rural, semi-urban and urban areas in the provinces of Herat, Kabul, Kandahar, Kunduz and Nangarhar. The sample was not random (due to security, access and data challenges) nor was it representative of all IDPs in Afghanistan (since it was limited to government-controlled areas).

Key findings include:

  • Internal displacement in Afghanistan is increasing, linked to the withdrawal of most foreign troops, escalating violence, and expanding areas under Taliban or ISIL control. Most displacement occurs within provinces. People tend to flee rural areas for regional centers.
  • Newly returned refugees are adding significantly to the IDP caseload. Many were compelled to return due to pressures in Iran and Pakistan or reducing asylum acceptance rates for Afghans internationally. A returned refugee can become a “returnee-IDP” when they are unable to return to their place of origin, or when they become displaced after returning to their place of origin. 72 percent of surveyed returnee-IDP households had been displaced twice and 27 percent displaced three times.
  • Three quarters of IDP households do not receive aid assistance, and half have trouble meeting their food needs. Many resort to harmful coping strategies (skipping meals, child labor).
  • IDP registration procedures are complex, costly and prevent aid from reaching those who need it (there is little/no access to the petition system outside government-controlled areas).
  • IDPs are not aware of their rights or the entitlements and remedies available to them.
  • Durable solutions remain elusive for most IDPs due to the ongoing conflict and worsening security. Most IDPs would prefer to integrate locally.
  • IDPs’ lack of sustainable housing solutions and limited job opportunities continue to be their main protection concerns.
  • IDPs are benefiting from national and international program that target them for support.
  • Female IDPs are highly vulnerable and often lack access to specialist support.

The report recommends:

  • Addressing the priorities identified by IDPs including housing and shelter, livelihood opportunities, education, child protection, and psychosocial and GBV services for woman.
  • Collective efforts to implement Afghanistan’s national policy on IDPs, requiring additional resources for the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation and its provincial offices.
  • Multi-year funding to bridge the gap between new and protracted IDP caseloads.
  • Reform and streamlining of the IDP petition system.
  • Earlier engagement of development actors to address the longer-term needs of displacement- affected communities.
  • Developing a strategy to improve responses to IDPs in areas outside of government control.
  • Improving provision of psychosocial and child protection support.