Afghan refugees homeless again

Afghan refugees are now homeless once again – evicted not by war but the floods.


Afp August 20, 2010

AZAKHEL PAYAN: Afghan refugees are now homeless once again – evicted not by war but the floods that have devastated Pakistan. “Nothing is left. Everything is destroyed,” said 40-year-old Muhibullah, sitting on the debris of his home at Azakhel refugee camp. Originally a giant tent city for Afghans, the camp had morphed into a permanent village over the years.

Muhibullah, a teacher in a madrassa, has moved his ten children into a tent. Wearing wet clothes, he bundled bed sheets, cushions, quilts and pillows to one side and tried to dry them out. Broken beds, stools and other furniture were visible under the debris of Muhibullah’s house while a ceiling fan full of mud and dirt lay on one side.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said Azakhel accommodated around 6,000 Afghan families, but the villagers who had lost everything put the number at 11,000. UNHCR spokeswoman, Billi Bierling, said 1.5 million of Pakistan’s 1.7 million Afghan refugees live in flood-affected areas, and that about 12,000 of their dwellings had been destroyed. “We’re calling on the donor community, we need more help. We need more air lifts, we need more material” said the UNHCR shelter coordinator Werner Schellenberg, adding that it would take at least two months to clear away the rubble.

For Islam Gul, 30, who lost his medical store and his home, the future in Pakistan is so bleak that he is contemplating a return to Afghanistan with his parents, five brothers, their wives and children, as well as his own offspring, convinced that his native city Jalalabad can now afford more comfort.    “All the medicines are buried. I have nothing to feed my family with,” he said, outside the wreckage of his shop.

Children paddled barefoot in filthy water.

An awful stench of hundreds of dead cattle stung the back of the throat and made breathing difficult. All around, parents and children were busy rescuing their belongings from the filthy water. An eight-year-old boy clutched a toy in his left hand, having walked through muddy, contaminated water to retrieve it.

Exhausted and weighed down with bags, schoolteacher Mohammad Ali, 45, and his 12-year-old daughter Salma walked out of the camp with bundles of household goods and a bag of clothes. Ali’s house and the school where he taught were destroyed. “For me, the real problem is the destruction of the school. I’m worried about the future, both the future of our children and my own” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st, 2010.

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