The ICRC in Afghanistan

01-01-2014 Overview

The ICRC’s delegation in Kabul was established in 1987, after eight years working in Pakistan for victims of the Afghan conflict. The operational focus is on monitoring the conduct of hostilities and working to prevent violations of international humanitarian law, protecting detainees and assisting civilians affected by the conflict. The ICRC tries to restore family links and acts as a neutral intermediary to enable humanitarian action to take place across front lines. It assists the wounded and disabled, supports hospital care and improves water and sanitation services. The delegation contributes to strengthening the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS).

Widespread conflict continues to devastate the lives of Afghans in many districts and villages. The threat of civilian casualties, internal displacement, and insufficient access to medical care, are only some of the challenges. All of them occur against a backdrop of a splintering of armed groups, night raids, air strikes, suicide bombing, and the laying of improvised explosive devices. The expansion of the conflict to previously quiet areas has increased people's difficulties and left whole communities trapped between the warring parties. the south, east, north, north-west and central regions are the worst affected.

In this highly complex situation, in which humanitarian access to those in need remains challenging, the ICRC has had to adapt its approach in order to reach and assist the most vulnerable. It works increasingly through local partners, including the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) and is developing a dialogue with influential leaders of civil society to make its mandate and action more broadly understood and accepted. Since 2009, it has increased the number of its offices around the country to ensure its presence in areas of most need.

ICRC delegates collect information on specific instances of alleged violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) and make confidential representations to the parties to the conflict to try to prevent them happening again. They also remind the authorities and weapon bearers of their obligations under IHL, particularly with regard to the conduct of hostilities and the duty to protect people who are not, or no longer, participating in the fighting.

Linking separated families

Visits to people detained by the Afghan authorities and the international military foces remain a top priority in order to monitor the treatment and living conditions of detainees and to ensure that judicial guarantees are respected. Efforts are also made to restore or maintain links between members of separated families. The ICRC offers its expertise on prison infrastructure to help the Afghan authorities rehabilitate prisons and improve inmates’ health and hygiene.

Access to health care remains difficult in many areas where security is poor. The ICRC provides medical support to the government-run Sheberghan Hospital in the north and Mirwais Regional Hospital in the south. It also provides technical and financial support to 47 ARCS clinics and to community-based volunteers who deliver health care to people in conflict-affected areas. Medical supplies are provided to hospitals upon request when there are mass casualties. In the south, the ICRC pays to have taxis bring the wounded to hospital. Medical kits are sent to conflict areas to treat emergency cases.

Seven ICRC-run orthopaedic centres provide rehabilitation and social reintegration for thousands of amputees and others with disabilities. Persons with spinal cord injuries are visited at home by ICRC-trained physiotherapists.  

Assistance for families

The ICRC distributes food and non-food items to families displaced by conflict or natural disaster. This includes emergency food distribution, 'food for work' projects, and support for agriculture and livestock programmes. In close cooperation with the Red Crescent, the ICRC provides aid to displaced communities.

Capacity building is conducted with Afghan Red Crescent staff and volunteers to help them carry out humanitarian programmes for the community.

Related sections