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Corruption hits hard land plots’ distribution to returnees

Corruption hits hard land plots’ distribution to returnees

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On
May 01, 2017 - 15:52

KABUL (Pajhwok): Refugees families, who returned from neighbouring countries in recent years, say the government has issued them ownership documents of land plots, but they are yet to possess the plots and other promised facilities.

A large number of Afghan refugees started returning from neighboring after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 and establishment of a new interim government under former president Hamid Karzai.

During the past 15 years, more than five million Afghan refugees have returned to their country, according to statistics with the Ministry of Refugee and Repatriation (MoRR) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Most of the repatriates could not turn to their own areas due to insecurity and chose to live in urban centres.

The Afghan government provided ownership documents of residential plots to tens of thousands of Afghan returnees and built many townships for them in different parts of the country.

However, the refugees say the land plots are yet to be handed over to them and the government-built townships lack essential services.

Another major problem the returnees face is the grabbing of land belonging to townships for refugees in a number of provinces by powerful individuals.

According to information Pajhwok Afghan News has obtained, more than 2,000 residential plots have been usurped in eastern Nangarhar province alone. Only 12,000 families have so far been handed over land plots while another 160,000 families have been wandering around government department in the hope of obtaining land plots.

However, a number of families have constructed residential buildings in some refugee townships despite lacking valid ownership documents.

Complaints of repatriates

Many families who need residential plots have long been visiting the Refugee and Repatriation Department of Nangarhar province on a daily basis seeking land plots.

Sayedullah, a 50 year-old man from Khogyani district of Nangarhar, who spent long years in Pakistan and returned a year ago, said he had been requesting the Refugee and Repatriation Department to allot him a land plot since he repatriated. He said in each visit he was given a new date.

Sayedullah told Pajhwok Afghan News many people who referred to the Refugee Department later than him had been able to obtain plots because they paid bribe.

Mohammad Gul, another returnee, said he had been coming to the refugee department over the past three months but he was yet to be given an exact date to get the land plot.

“We come here every day, I had filled the application form, we have no idea what to do, no one allows us to enter the department, they call people inside who are relatives of influential people.”

Sanzala, a widow woman who held a land plot request form in her hand, wanted to enter the Refugee and Repatriation Department but the security guards had her way blocked. She told Pajhwok she was treated this way for the past five months.

On the other hand, residents of a refugees’ township, a MoRR project, say the residential scheme lacks basic facilities. They say may families who are not refugees also reside in the township.

Saifur Rahman, a resident of Sheikh Mesri Township in Nangarhar, said he was not a repatriate, but he had bought the land plot in the township from Awal Gul, a man registered as refugee and owner of the land with the Refugee and Repatriation Department.

Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA) representative for Nangarhar, Dr. Mohammad Hanif Hashemi, said he had the plan to conduct a survey about refugees’ problems, particularly about land plots distribution, but he was unable to conduct the survey due what he said busy schedule of the officials concerned.

“We wanted to conduct a survey about refugees, we tried for a month to talk with the refugee and repatriation director, his deputy or other official of the department, but they did not respond to our phone calls due to what they said extremely busy duty schedule,” he said.

Hashemi said land distribution to repatriates was a long process in Nangarhar and people had to visit many offices and wait for many days.

He said refugees who had no relatives in relevant offices faced hardships in obtaining residential plots. Hashemi suggested law enforcement would help prevent land-grabbing and implement township projects.

Refugees’ affairs department’s activities and response

The Nangarhar refugees’ affairs department says two townships have been constructed for refugees in Nangarhar, and work on two others is ongoing to accommodate 44,000 returnees.

The refugees’ affairs head, Ghulam Haidar Faqiri, said the two townships -- Sheikh Mesri and Chamtali --  have 14,000 land plots and about 6,000 families have been given plots in the Sheikh Mesri Township.

He said the Sheikh Mesri township had no problem but more than 2,000 plots of total 8,000 plots at the Chamtali township had been usurped.

“The township’s area is insecure and when we take police with us there from Surkhrod and Khogyani districts, they flee. We have given plots to eligible people, but the plots were forcibly taken from them.”

He said insecurity and strongmen were behind the usurpation of plots. He believed  until a security post wasn’t established in the area, the issue would persist.

About 160,000 returnees have applied for plots, Faqiri said, adding they had given plots to 12,000 families who constituted 13 percent of the total. “There is a lack of land here, and we have always suggested construction of high-rise buildings which are the only way to resolve the problem.”

He denied corruption in distribution of plots in his office because his department had stopped the process of distributing plots about four years ago.

He said currently there was no commission agent within the department nor did an agent existed in front of it. He acknowledged the arrest of two groups last year.

Security Organs

Nangarhar police spokesman Hazrat Hussain Mashriqiwal police force stationed in Surkhrod and Khogyani districts had always helped in reclaiming townships’ usurped lands from grabbers.

He said a number of individuals had been detained on the charges of land usurpation. Without giving their number, he said, the detainees had been referred to judicial organs.

Government’s activities in plots provision to refugees

Nangarhar governor’s spokesman, Attuallah Khogyani, told Pajhwok Afghan News the National Security Council had allocated a specified budget for IDPs and the money would soon be released to the provincial government for distribution to families’ whose houses had been destroyed in fighting. The families would use the money to reconstruct their homes and return to their own areas.

Currently two refugees’ townships are in-service and construction work on two others is ongoing, thanks to efforts by the provincial government, Khogyani said, adding plans had been devised for further work in this regard.

In response to the concern of the Refugees and Repatriation Department that some parts of townships had been usurped by powerful men due to insecurity, Khogyani said a long-term plan had been devised to retake all the grabbed land.

He expressed unawareness about commission agents in distribution of residential plots, saying earlier some agents and refugees department’s employees had been detained over illegally receiving refugee aid.

Lack of facilities in refugee townships and non-provision of plots to a number of families are also considered main issues in Kabul

The Khalilullah Khalili Township was constructed in Qarabagh district of central capital Kabul in 2007 and 10,000 residential plots were distributed to refugees.

A primary school and health clinic were also established by an organization, but the township housing , nearly 360 families lacks electricity, potable water and other facilities.

A resident of the township, Abdul Qahar Haqmal, complained about the lack of social facilities in the township, saying: “There are no facilities which can address people’s everyday needs.”

He said doctors at the clinic performed duty until 12pm and then leave for home and serious patients were shifted to Kabul as a result. “There is no girls’ school as well as electricity and potable water. We are leading a problematic life.”

According to him, currently 360 families, most of them have received plots from the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation (MoRR). Some brick kiln workers are also living in the area.

“10,000 residential plots are distributed in the township, but all are not occupied as some people haven’t constructed homes and buildings because there are no facilities.”

Another resident of the township, Abdul Zahir, said: “We repatriated from Pakistan about 15 years ago, we firstly started living under tents in Chaman Babrak area of Kabul city, later on we were given residential plots in this township in the era of Hamid Karzai. It’s been 10 years now that we are living here.”

He also grumbled about the non-existence of social facilities, adding: “No work was carried out in the township in the past 10 years. There is no road and school or a hospital that operate for 24 hours. Also there is no electricity and we are living in extreme conditions.”

He said 600 families lived in the township at the beginnings, but after some years some families moved to other areas due to the lack of facilities and only 360 families remained.

The residents asked the MoRR to take serious measures for providing power and potable water to the township’s dwellers who were without roads and schools.

The Kabul refugees’ affairs head, Abdul Rahman Shams, said in compliance with the 104th presidential decree families who possessed UNHCR or IOM’s repatriation forms were given land plots.

“If a refugee hails from Kabul, the refugees department obtains a copy of his repatriation form and sends it along with copies of his ID card and application letter to the relevant municipality district or administrative district to determine if the person in question has applied for a land plot in the name of his wife or brothere and then the commission concerned hands over a plot to him.”

According to Shams, the commission is comprised of representatives from the ministries of rural rehabilitation, agriculture and urban development and Kabul municipality, human rights commission, refugees’ affairs department and provincial councils. The commission decides on plot provision to deserving individuals.

Shams said there were two townships for refugees in Kabul --- one in Barik Aab area of Qarabagh district and the other in Mamozai area of Bagramai district.

According to him, about 9,000 land plots have been distributed to eligible people in Barik Aab Township and nearly 2,500 plots in Mamozai Township so far.

Shams went on to say that 20,000 other refugees’ documents had also been processed but due to lack of land, no area had been so far allocated for them.

He cited long distance between townships and urban centeres and the lack services as main issues the refugees faced.

Herat province local officials complain of land shortage for refugees as well

The Herat provincial refugees’ affairs department head, Javid Naadim, said the number of applications seeking plots had exceeded 9,000 and they had been able so far to give only 1,500 land plots.

He said a township has also been constructed for repatriates in Herat. The township has 13 phases and all facilities and services are made available.

Naadim said over the past 10 years they had been able to activate only one phase of the township, where a hundred families lived.  However, he said, the township was located 35 kilometres from the city and many returnees were unwilling to live there.

On the other hand, the repatriates in the province say they have submitted applications long ago and but the applications were yet to be processed.

Ghulam Mahboob returned home from Iran about eight years back and had since been struggling to receive a land plot.

“They demanded 4,500afs in bribe which I gave to them, but it’s been eight years now I haven’t received the land.”

Another returnee named Shir Ahmad said he also had paid money as bribe to obtain land, but he was still awaiting it.

The MoRR says the government is responsible to provide all repatriates with shelter and facilitate their stay. MoRR media advisor, Hafizullah Miakhel, said the government had a plan to construct 61 townships in 29 provinces for the refugees

Under the plan, a number of areas were handed over to MoRR and work on some others areas was in progress. He called usurpation of land and lack of security as main issues behind the delay in work on refugee townships.

Miakhel added a commission had been set up for land distribution among refugees and the commission consisted of seven ministries and members of organizations.

The commission has the task to investigate repatriates’ documents and after assessment provide every needy family a land plot in its own province.

He confirmed issues exited in distribution of residential plots; adding efforts have been launched to ensure the distribution process was transparent. He also acknowledged the lack of facilities in some townships and informed a committee had been established for standardizing of townships.

In addition to distribution of land plots in provinces, a residential scheme consisting of 50,000 plots has also been prepared in Kabul. Miakhel said the distribution process of land plots was underway in some provinces.

The government’s new policy authorizes the Afghanistan Independent Land Authority and the Capital Region Independent Development Authority in central zone to distribute land.

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