While the government has announced a six-month extension in the legal stay of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, those living in Koga Camp in Buner District feel anything but facilitated.
Refugees settled in the camp told The Express Tribune that soon after the announcement, the local administration imposed a ban on their movement to Mardan or Swat via the Ambella road.
As many as 11,000 Afghan families are settled in the camp for the last 30 years and many have jobs and established businesses in neighbouring areas. They said the ban is a nuisance for them as they are being forced to take a much longer route to these Swat and Mardan, through Sawabi District.
“We are registered migrants but the [local] administration keeps creating problems for us,” said a refugee settled at the camp, requesting not to be named. “Our people are arrested on false accusations and kept in lockups for days and now our movement has been banned on the road that we commute on daily,” he said. “Why can’t they just leave us in peace?” he remarked.
Residents said travelling to Swat or Mardan via Sawabi District is time consuming and almost four times as costlier. Moreover, they said since very few public transport vehicles ply the route it gets difficult to get a ride during off-peak hours.
“If there is an emergency, there is no way we can reach a hospital on time,” said another refugee. He said children who go to schools and colleges and women who have jobs in hospitals in Swat reach home really late because of the ban.
Sadiqullah, a student of Swat University said compared to travelling via Ambella road, it takes him around six hours extra commuting to the university every day and costs him thrice as much.
Refugees said they have not been told why their movement on Ambella road has been restricted. “We have asked District Coordination Officer (DCO) Buner, the police and the army for a reason but no one gives us any,” the refugee lamented.
Moreover, the refugees lack basic facilities at the camp and their living conditions are miserable given the heaps of garbage and lack of a proper drainage system. But the refugees still fear that their living conditions will be worse in Afghanistan. They said they have jobs and established businesses here and will be forced into a life of poverty if they are repatriated to Afghanistan.
“We are very poor and our government is not serious in accommodating us, so we request the Pakistani government to let us stay here longer,” said Amir Jan, an elderly man who has been living at the camp for almost 30 years. “When even the government officials and ministers cannot live in Afghanistan in peace, how can we?” he remarked.
DCO Buner was contacted several times but he refused to comment on ban on movement of Afghan refugees on Ambella road.
Inam Khan, Koga Camp supervisor, said he was not aware of any such ban, however, he said the issue will be taken up with the local administration in its next meeting. “If such a ban exists we will try to sort it out properly,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 27th, 2012.
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