Stuck in the Mud: Urban Displacement and Tenure Security in Kabul’s Informal Settlements

Mohammad Abdoh and Anna Hirsch-Holland

Background paper for the Global Report on Internal Displacement 2019


Over 55,000 IDPs have settled in Kabul’s informal settlements, characterized by the poor physical condition of shelters and infrastructure, and insecure tenure of residents. This paper examines the status of land ownership and tenure security in three informal settlements in Kabul in order to understand how power dynamics and interests intersect to prolong displacement in inadequate and insecure conditions. The authors find that residents have limited knowledge about land ownership and tenure arrangements. In one of the three settlements, residents have managed to purchase land with a written document proving their ownership. They have been able to build permanent structures, set up a school for their children, and plan for the future. In the other two sites (more typical of informal settlements in Kabul), residents have little or no tenure security; they live in fear of eviction, prevented from upgrading their shelters, and not enrolling their children in school on the assumption that they may have to leave any day. This is largely due to the weak policy and legal frameworks that should promote durable solutions either by formalizing the stay of IDPs where they are currently living (regularization of land occupancy, upgrading of settlements, and provision of services), or through relocation to allocated state land. This allows landowners to exploit the ambiguities in the system for their private gain, e.g. earning substantial income from charging rent to informal settlement residents, speculatively protecting land for potential real estate development (using the presence of IDPs to protect the land until such a time as they are willing to develop it) or grabbing land from others (including the state) who may hold a claim to i

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