Afghanistan Crossroads

Number of Afghanistan refugees has doubled

They are the faces of civilians caught in the crossfire in Afghanistan. Facing internal conflict, the number of people fleeing their homes in Afghanistan has more than doubled compared to this time last year, says Refugees International, an advocacy group for displaced persons.

"In the first five months of 2011, we have more than 91,000 people fleeing their homes. And this is in comparison to last year at the same time period when there was 42,000," Refugees International advocate Lynn Yoshikawa said.

"They are living in cramped corridors ... sharing homes, living outside in tents. They have a lot of difficulties with breathing conditions, very limited access to medical facilities to address the problems. A lot of it is chronic," said Yoshikawa.

Yoshikawa visited tent cities across Afghanistan earlier this year with her colleagues, taking photos of the refugees' living conditions and sharing them publicly for the first time with CNN.

In describing the makeshift camps, Refugees International representatives say some were situated along major roads within Afghanistan's capital of Kabul, thrown together with discarded objects such as old cars, plastic tarps and torn sheets.

The humanitarian group warns that Afghans continue to be driven from their homes by coalition air strikes and special forces raids.

"There is still a lot of displacement happening and it's not being properly addressed," said Yoshikawa. "The military isn't reporting people that they see displaced from their military operations. That prevents humanitarian agencies from going to respond because often these are areas inaccessible because of these high levels of conflict."

Gen. David Petraeus, outgoing Commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, has long said the military tries to be as careful as possible.

A U.S. State Department's spokeswoman said Friday that despite President Obama's announcement to withdraw 33,000 troops from Afghanistan within the next 15 months, the United States is committed to Afghanistan's long-term stability.

"We do continue to support efforts internally in Afghanistan to ensure that refugees are well managed," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

"With regard to the larger question of security in Afghanistan ... our goal is not to allow more insecurity but continue to transfer increasing security to the Afghans. Refugees and other folks who need protecting we have in mind as this strategy evolves with Afghans gaining more strength."

Yet questions remain about the extent of corruption within Afghanistan's security forces, including local police, who Refugees International says are now also driving Afghans from their homes.

"We talked to displaced people who said the Afghan local police, which are supported by U.S. military... are extorting money from people, demanding taxes, using their power to abuse civilians. They've also been implicated in allegations of murder and torture in these communities," explained Yoshikawa.

Afghan government officials have often said they are already trying to improve their security forces. Nuland says the United States is working closely with Afghans to ensure there are "good human rights standards" and "anti-corruption standards"

Refugees International says larger humanitarian concerns remain, with many displaced families fearful of returning home after fleeing violence.

The group says that many of those critical local police units, tasked with protecting Afghan residents, are now so corrupt that they should not be funded until strict recruiting and discipline standards are met.