White, in Dashti Archi District of Kunduz
Province in July, where he interviewed Afghanis who have come
In harm's way
Brian White 00 helps Afghan refugees who have returned home
By Kathryn Federici Greenwood
Many Afghans who fled their country are heading home. And Brian
White 00, who is based in Peshawar, Pakistan, with the International
Rescue Committee (IRC), assists both refugees and internally displaced
Afghans who have returned to their villages. White works on both
sides of the Pakistani-Afghan border, by identifying the challenges
returnees face, including lack of assistance and human rights abuses,
determining if conditions are right for repopulation, and getting
that information back to those still in camps.
Afghans are both hopeful and wary of going back to their villages,
says White, who had been stationed in Congo before arriving in Pakistan
last April. In June and July, White visited some 20 or so rural
villages in Afghanistans Balkh, Kunduz, and Ghor provinces
to "figure out what's really going on." He interviewed
people who have returned and gathered information from other nongovernmental
"Every village is different," says White, who majored
in politics at Princeton. "Some find that their villages, situated
on former frontlines, are finally safe and secure from attacks by
soldiers, but still threatened by landmines. In other areas, fighting
continues and some families find themselves at the mercy of local
warlords and other ethnic groups. In some areas, rains have brought
opportunity and hope to farmers. In others, drought conditions continue."
In fact, "most of the people who had to flee their homes in
the last three years in Afghanistan weren't fleeing fighting. They
were fleeing famine and drought." Some villagers "have
to walk four or five hours just to get to a place where they can
get drinking water."
As a member of IRC's eight-person protection unit, White monitors
the human rights of returning refugees and collects information
on abuses. When he visited a village in northern Afghanistan, for
example, one family interviewed said that armed soldiers came to
their house demanding blankets and food. White funnels that information
to field staffers, who try to work with local elders and commanders.
When traveling inside Afghanistan, he stays away from areas of fighting
and never sets out alone or after dark. "We're not trying to
be cowboys. We're just trying to get to the areas where people are,"
says White, who journeys without armed guards because IRC staff
members don't want Afghanis to associate them with a military operation.
Some Afghans have returned home only to leave again because life
wasn't sustainable, says White, whose current post lasts one year.
"Basic necessities, like food, water, and shelter, are still
in short supply in many of the communities. Security problems
are a common feature in urban and rural areas."
"The international community, led by the U.S., mobilized every
available resource to remove the Taliban from power and drive Al
Qaeda out of Afghanistan," says White. "Now the same level
of international commitment is necessary to help the people of Afghanistan
get back on their feet again and rebuild their country after three
years of drought and famine and 20 years of civil war."