Returnee Afghan Women Reclaim Right to Shelter, Access Basic Services

20 Feb 2013

imageUNDP Afghanistan / Sayeed Farhad Zalmai: Hawa says life was very hard in rental houses, and she had to choose between feeding her children and paying rent for the house. Along with 14-year-old son, she earns her living by weaving carpets in their house.

Meet Hava. About eight years ago she returned from Iran with her husband and three sons. Reminiscing on the past, Hava says, “We had no means to reclaim our own land and were forced to rent a space with minimum amenities. We were continuously harassed by our landlord for not being able to pay the rent in time”. Just a couple of years back, the family was able to access the assistance for shelter for returnees and internally displaced persons provided by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). In 2012, Hava was able to move into her new home.

Unfortunately, not long after they moved into their home in Dashte Barchi, Hava’s husband came down with an undiagnosed disease and passed away in the prime of his youth. Hava’s young boys had to find different ways to earn money to help with the rent while making sure they did not miss out on school. Even though life is hard, Hava, 37, admits that with a roof on her head, at least her dignity is protected. While the family gets just two hours of electric supply per day, she manages to be hopeful and walk around with a winsome smile.

For Rahima struggle is what she knew about life, but her formidable spirit made her hardship appear bearable. She was pregnant with her fourth child when her husband passed away four years ago. She spent one-half year in a three-by-three meter place with her four children and an extended family of nine members. She says that over ten people once lived in the dingy space with not even a proper floor. By turns, the children suffered from various infectious diseases due to the lack of sanitation and the prevalence of insects.

“During summers we would stuff our ears to protect ourselves from worms and other crawling insects,” she said.

But all that is in the past. She now owns a two-room home and feels she is back on course to get her children a decent future. She does needle art on fabrics to sustain her family. When asked what would make her life a bit easier, she said “entrepreneurship”. At 40 and unable to read or write, she dreams that one day she could purchase her own fabrics and sell her work to diverse customers.

For over 30,000 Afghans living in informal settlements in and around Kabul, and in particular women such as Hava and Rahima, repatriation brings forth untold hardships. After spending challenging years away from their homes, families often return as social and economic outcasts. Amongst many things, the resettlement of the returnees often embodies disputes over property and land ownership.

The NRC assistance covers free information and counselling on durable solutions and rights awareness for the returnees. Legal representation to refugees, returnees and IDPs in civil law matters is provided through formal and traditional justice systems of Afghanistan. Such services connect target groups with other assistance providers in Afghanistan. UNDP’s own work in the justice sector aims to ensure that Afghan men and women have increased trust in the state’s justice and citizen security institutions, which is in line with agreements made between the Government of Afghanistan and the international community at the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan in July 2012. The support spans three national justice institutions – the Ministry of Justice, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Supreme Court, and aims to provide better delivery of justice services and improve access to justice in 12 target provinces.

Thanks to UNDP support, over 5 million people have been reached through mass media and direct public legal awareness activities at the community level. Nearly 50,000 students have been educated in human rights through using a network of close to 470 teachers. Over 4,500 justice, community and religious leaders were trained in Afghan laws, the legal system and human rights.