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Polly Truscott
Image: Amnesty International

Refugee rights

Rodion Ebbighausen
May 23, 2013

Amnesty International's 2013 human rights report focuses on the protection of migrants and refugees. AI's South Asia director Polly Truscott tells DW what the Afghan government is doing to improve their situation.


DW: What is the focus of the Amnesty International report on human rights of this year?

Polly Truscott: Our report this year focuses on problems experienced by people on the move across the world. Our research shows that to some extent the world is increasingly becoming dangerous for refuges and migrant workers also in the context of Asia-Pacific for internally displaced persons. What is clear to us is that the rights of millions, who have escaped conflicts and persecution or migrants seeking a better life elsewhere, are being abused. Governments aren't really showing interest in protecting their rights.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the situation of migrants and internally displaced persons from Afghanistan?

As I already mentioned, there are 2.7 million Afghan refugees outside the country. In fact Pakistan, for example, has just agreed that they do not be returned to Afghanistan yet, which is good news, given the very insecure situation that many would face on return.

There are 500,000 internally displaced people fleeing conflict or natural disaster. They are in camps, in urban settlements and at huge risks of further abuses and lack of access to health care and education. A huge problem is that in winter months, our research has found, many have died from cold or from illness because of the lack of assistance for those internally displaced people.

What is really good news, however, is that the Afghan government is at last - hopefully in response to Amnesty's work in the past year - consulting on a draft for a national policy for internally displaced persons (IDP). It is really important because there is a huge debate about who is and who is not an IDP and what assistance they should be provided. We really hope this new policy once it is adopted will make a big difference to the life of internally displaced persons.

What points does the policy focus on?

There are three really important points for that policy. One is the definition of what an IDP is. There are many that would not recognize some as being internally displaced because obviously it is a burden on the state to look after them and ensure that their rights are respected.

Number two is the problem of forced evictions - that is, evictions that are not consistent with international human rights standards. There are standards for the process of forced evictions and they need to be included in the policy.

And finally, there is the issue of durable solutions for IDPs. That means they should be able to return to their homes. If they really can not return to their homes because their homes are gone or it is still to dangerous for them to return, they should have the option to integrate somewhere else.

When does AI expect this draft to become a law?

In the next couple of months, I hope. It really depends on any last minute political debate around it. Hopefully it can be passed through the cabinet without requiring major parliamentary debate which could stall things.

Then of course we will be looking for all parts of government, particularly the ministry of finance and the ministry of refugees but also the international community to ensure that the policy can be implemented, which is going to cost money and technical expertise.

The ISAF is reducing its engagement in Afghanistan. Which affects will this have on the human rights situation?

A very obvious affect of the impending international troop redraw is that women human rights defenders tell us that they are beginning to self-censor. They fear reprisals with a decrease of protection. That is not necessarily that international troops have been providing all that protection, but the worry is as international military withdraw, there will be a political and financial disengagement in Afghanistan as well. Women and other human rights defenders very much need continued pressure on Afghan authorities to ensure that their rights and the rights of others are respected. That is definitely the alarm bell that is ringing loud and clear in Afghanistan now.

Another problem with the troop withdraw is that there have been some alleged violations by international security forces over the last few years and those outstanding cases need to be resolved. There are issues of not enough reparation or compensation provided to the victims and in some cases questions about prosecution that haven't been followed through.

On the problem of the transfer of responsibility over to the national forces, we really worry that the accountability, the oversight mechanisms for the national security forces will not be effectively in place. So there is a real concern that the national security forces could commit all sorts of violations with impunity. In fact, in the last year, we have seen an increase in torture by the Afghan Local Police. Certainly there needs to be a huge effort made to transfer from the military law enforcements paradigm to a more typical national law enforcement situation.

Polly Truscott is Amnesty International's South Asia director in London.

Interview conducted by Rodion Ebbighausen

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