Austere weather conditions strike down displaced Afghans

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Severe cold weather has affected Afghan refugee camps killing at least 17 people, Amnesty International said Tuesday.

Most of the victims were children who had been displaced by the war in Afghanistan.

The deaths occurred in the first two weeks of January in Kabul and Herat provinces, which host most of the country’s’ half a million refugees.

“These deaths were a preventable tragedy,” Amnesty’s deputy Asia Pacific director Polly Truscott said in a statement.

Last winter about 100 people, mostly children and the elderly, lost their lives in the camps. The Afghan government along with international donors have been called upon to prevent a repeat of the tragedy.

The latest deaths show “the inadequate co-ordination of winter assistance to hundreds of thousands of people living in displacement camps across the country…..The fact that children and the elderly are among the dead highlights the need to protect those groups that are most vulnerable to the harsh winter conditions,” Truscott said.

In the western province of Herat, assistance reached refugees returning to Afghanistan from abroad. However aid to those internally displaced was apparently blocked after pressure from the provincial governor’s office, Amnesty reported.

Local authorities were said to be concerned that aid to displaced people could encourage them to stay in the camps permanently instead of returning to their home provinces.

Decades of conflict has left Afghanistan with one of the highest internally displaced populations in the world. The UN refugee agency estimates it at 450,000 but Amnesty said the actual number is likely to be much higher.

“There is a desperate need to act now to prevent further deaths this winter. Afghanistan and its donor partners should remember that safeguarding lives in these settlements is an obligation under international law,” Truscott said.