Uptick in claims of forced displacement across Afghanistan
Afghan Witness has observed an increase in the number of claims of alleged forced displacement and the number of provinces affected.
29 Sept 2023
Image: top image shows footage of destruction of alleged Hazara-owned land. Below shows a geolocation of the footage [Landay village, Khas Urozgan district, Uruzgan province].
There has been an uptick in claims of violence and forced displacement in several provinces of Afghanistan since January 2023, including Baghlan, Panjshir*, Takhar, Sar-e Pol, Kandahar, Kunduz, Ghor, Daykundi, Uruzgan, and Bamyan. The incidents, which include alleged land acquisition and destruction of property, arbitrary arrests, and lootings, have resulted in numerous protests and clashes.
Since January 2023, Afghan Witness (AW) collected at least 44 claims and visual materials explicitly mentioning forced displacement and destruction or acquisition of civilian property or land, mostly belonging to minorities, in at least 14 provinces across the country. The map below illustrates the provinces where claims of forced displacement emerged between January and September 2023. AW could not independently verify all of these claims due to limited imagery, however.
In some provinces, cases of forced displacement appear to have a long history related to ethnic clashes over control and access to land. AW records also indicate that alleged forced migration and destruction of property have continued since 2021 in Panjshir and since 2022 in Sar-e Pol, Baghlan, and Bamyan. However, the claims of forced migration in other regions, such as Ghazni or Kandahar had not surfaced before, which could imply that the issue has gradually become more widespread.
Recent claims from Uruzgan Khas
Recently, claims of forced displacement and the destruction of property and land have been particularly well-documented in the central province of Uruzgan. In July, reports alleged that Taliban members had set fire to wheat fields allegedly belonging to Hazara residents in Uruzgan. On August 14, an X (formerly Twitter) user shared images of cut fruit trees, which also showed the presence of armed individuals. The user claimed that residents of Khas district, with the help of the Taliban, are deliberately destroying Hazara farmlands to force residents to flee the area. The user referred to the long history of tensions in the region, saying that those residents have “illegally occupies [sic] Hazara lands since 1893” and are “now forcing the remaining Hazaras to flee”. According to sources quoted by Independent Persian, the incident reportedly occurred on August 12, 2023, in Sheshpar village.
On the same day, August 14, Etilaatroz published an article describing the alleged “systematic and targeted” oppression of Hazaras in Uruzgan. The article mentioned incidents such as houses and cars being set alight, lootings, beatings, and killings. The damage, such as burned cars and buildings, can be seen in Etilaatroz’s video report documenting the incidents. Subtitles in the video narrate that the Pashtun "Kotezai" tribe cut 390 fruit trees in the Hazara Neshin Joi area and mention claims of "targeted harassment” as well as forced migration of the Hazara population. The footage also features a group of men destroying the lands allegedly belonging to the Hazaras. Some of the men appear to be armed, and one appears to be wearing a military uniform, as highlighted in the images below.
AW verified that the incident occurred in the Khas Urozgan district and geolocated the video to farmland near the village of Landay, in the central valley of the district, 100km northeast of the provincial capital Tirin Kut. Although AW was able to geolocate the footage, and armed men were visible, the full context surrounding the destruction of the trees could not be determined from open source information alone.
Recent claims from Zabul and Sar-e Pol
AW recently observed similar claims of alleged land destruction in the Arghandab district of Zabul province after two videos of men cutting and destroying trees circulated on X (formerly Twitter) on September 4, 2023. Reports of forced displacement in Sar-e Pol province have also appeared frequently in recent months.
In July 2023, a video – now deleted – surfaced showing families allegedly forcibly displaced by the Taliban in northern Sar-e Pol province. At least six individuals can be seen in the footage, including three minors and two women, all of whom appear to be Hazaras based on their facial features. A man seen in the video claims the family came from Golwarz village in Balkhab district and that he and three other families, together with 20 people, have been living in the house shown in the video under difficult circumstances after losing everything in Balkhab. As of September 6, provincial Taliban officials have not commented on the alleged incidents in Sar-e Pol and Zabul.
‘Non-violent’ methods of forced displacement
AW also recorded several incidents that may indicate an attempt to forcibly displace local residents and minorities in non-violent ways, including through prolonged water shortages, fines, and deliberate destruction of roads. AW has not been able to independently verify these claims, however.
In June 2023, Afghanistan International reported that water shortages had been ongoing in Kabul’s Dasht-e-Barchi area for over five months, which resulted in some residents leaving the area. Some social media users claimed the Taliban authorities did not address the issue but also did not allow residents to dig wells. Dasht-e-Barchi is populated mostly by Hazaras and Shias, and, although the issue of drought in Kabul is not new, some users claimed it was a deliberate attempt to force local residents and minorities to flee.
Between July 20 and August 20, 2023, AW recorded at least 15 claims of unlawful acquisition or deliberate destruction of land and property, including at least five claims explicitly related to forced displacements, with at least 13 people allegedly injured during these incidents. The alleged destruction and unlawful acquisition of property appeared to be used not only to target residents in Panjshir and Hazara communities, but also as a form of targeted revenge, for instance, against former government officials.
In August, a journalist in Bamiyan province claimed that Pashtuns and local Taliban officials reportedly destroyed a road serving at least 500 families*. In the same month, the Independent Persian released an article with footage claiming that in Wardak province, the Taliban authorities imposed fines on Hazara people, forcing them to pay about two million Afghanis to a nomadic man who claimed that the residents of Sarcheshmeh village stole his sheep several years ago.
Although the relationship between ethnic groups and tensions over land have a long and complex history in Afghanistan, in recent months AW has observed an increase in both the number of claims of alleged forced displacement and the number of provinces affected.
*Link removed for privacy reasons.