Afghan refugees eating grass, freezing temperature kills 18 children
The News: Jang, Jan.11, 2001
JALLOZAI, Pakistan: UN refugee officials appealed for urgent donor aid on Wednesday to help save the lives of thousands of Afghan refugees pouring into Pakistan, some of whom had been reduced to eating grass.
The UN High Commissioner for Rewfugees (UNHCR) is finding it hard to cope with the flow of refugees from Afghanistan where warfare, the worst drought in 30 years and a ruined economy have forced people to flee.
UN officials at Jallozai camp, 112 km (70 miles) west of Islamabad, said they expected 8,000 more families, or 40,000 people, to arrive in Pakistan over the next three months. "Jallozai is a makeshift site. It is an open place. People are exposed to the freezing weather. There is no proper shelter, no sanitation or (clean) water facilities," said Yusuf Hassan, UNHCR's senior regional external affairs officer for the southwest and central Asian region.
Cold, disease and malnutrition have killed several children at the camp, though nobody appears to know how many. UNHCR's emergency coordinator at the camp, Mohammad Abdi Adar, said there had been child deaths due to cold and disease but he could not give an exact figure. Some refugees said 70 children had died but officials put the toll at only seven.
"We have reports of seven children dying at this site due to freezing temperatures...and that is why we are racing against time to move them to a place where they have shelter, food and other facilities," Hassan said.
"We are informing the donors of this particular crisis and we hope they will respond favourably so that we can alleviate...and save lives," he added. Most of the new arrivals at Jallozai are from northern Afghanistan where conditions were even more inhospitable. "The mortality rate among children under five is 5.2 per 10,000 per day. This means 13 deaths out of 697 children under five over a period of 36 days," said a survey conducted by Medecins sans Frontiers on nutrition and mortality in one district of the northern Afghan province of Faryab. "People are reduced to eating roots and grass, almost all young men are reported to have left the area," said a recent UN report.
It said northern Afghanistan had been badly affected by drought and conflict. "In 2000, the wheat crop dropped by 65 percent in rainfed areas and by 30 percent in irrigated areas, compared to 1999," the report said.
Jallozai camp has housed about 200,000 Afghan refugees in the last 20 years after the start of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979. The current crisis began when a new wave of refugees started arriving in large numbers.
The living graveyard turned into beggars den
The Frontier Post, January 17, 2001
By Syed Bukhar shah
PESHAWAR: The residents of the "living graveyard", know as "Jallozi Refugees camp", have virtually become a beggar den. Almost all the inhabitants' runs behind every visitor, encircle them, start begging for registration, shifting them to another camp to avoid spending another night in this chilling cold.
Though they had nominated their "Numaiandas" (representatives) for their respective families, tribes and relatives and collectively nominated the youths carrying stick in their hands "Inzebat", (security officials) to control the situation but the helpless and shelterless people violate their own disciplines on the arrivals of any new comer to their camp.
During our visit to this living graveyard on Tuesday, the security officials repeatedly resorted to minor lathy charge thrice at different places to disperse the pushing mob moving towards the newly arrived officials of the UNHCR and media team members. Considering them as some one distributing some aid, they start running to another new comer, ignoring the repeated requests of the stick waving security officials that they were not distributing any assistance.
Another mob of helpless women and children thronged to a medical camp established by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) at a distance outside the plastic made tents. The women belonging to different age group, majority of them were old, carrying minor children in their hands, wrapped in old, dirty and shady warm cloths, had encircled one male and two female doctors of RAWA and two officials distributing medicines after their check ups. Majority of the old, who could not afford pushing and moving towards the doctors' team, were sitting disappointed watching the situation.
Realizing the situation that she might loss the chance, an old women started crying, narrating her miseries in a loud voice, attracting the officials there. All of them heard her, moved forward, as they were sure nothing will happen. The same complaints were voiced by dozens of other women visitors, contacting each and every visitor for help in getting them registered, checking and getting medicines,
Its look like a "Qiamiat" [doomsday] where every one was worried for their own selves, family members and children.
Another mob of women and children were seen outside the newly established Clinics by the UN Project Director Health with the collaboration of UNHCR at a height of a rock. They were waiting for their turn. Here the officials did make proper arrangements for checking the patients turn by turn with the help of local police officials and members of the Inzibat.
Hundreds of men, youth and children were seen sitting in a round circle as if the players would come in the field to play.
They were in fact waiting for the two members of RAWA, sitting in a camp, to chalk out their programme as how to start their work. Some of them suggested to contact the Hospital officials at a distance, they went there and the mob chased them. It annoyed the doctors, who requested them to leave the site and pack their medicine from here. The doctor said the mob would disturb their smooth functioning. They shifted their doctors and medicines to another open place.
It was difficult for the media men to hear from the encircled mob. All of them wanted to narrate their own miseries at a time.
They do not want to miss another chance. Almost all of them were interested in early registration. They were insisting on this despite our repeated introduction that this team was not the one registering them. The newsmen were worried as what to report and where to start and how to write? Which should be reported? An old women appeared, removed her sheet from her head and it stunned the gathering to see that all her hair were removed due to big-with open mouth. All of them were rushing from one site to another with the hope to get them registered, get some thing and know the situation for tomorrow. Every one of them had seven to 20 families including the widows whose husbands were killed either in the war against Russians or in the on going civil wars. The men could not leave the site so that they could be registered in time if the officials of the Afghan commiserate visited the site. A helpless widow with her five children were also among the refugees living here for the last 10 days, putting her hand over her elder son, said that she sent her boy to beg in the bazaar and whatever he got in the day, we eat. The men complained that the lack of employment chances in the local areas had further disappointed them as the existing stuff with them would be finished after two to three days.
The early registration and shifting from this graveyard to Shamshatu camp was their immediate wish and hope for their future life. All of them were cursing their elders, jehadi organisations for pushing them towards this situation. We were not beggars but our irresponsible and inefficient leaders and elders made us beggars. They requested to the International community and media men to bring their leaders to this camp so that they should see the condition of their own nation by themselves. In one camp, it was observed that the inhabitants were boiling the collected bread from the local bazars in water, to feed their members. They suggested that if the local population provide them the remaining bread and food, which they usually waste after eating, it would largely solve their problems. The increasing dust, lack of clean drinking water and non availability of sewerage system here would aggravate the situation.
Afghan women worst sufferers in living graveyard
The Frontier Post, January 18, 2001
By Syed Bukhar shah
PESHAWAR - Out of the total present more than 15,000 Afghan refugees in the living graveyard turn beggars’ den; of Jalozai refugee camp on (Tuesday), the women were the worst sufferers.
Majority of them had lost male family members during the war against Russians or in the civil war.
They had minor children and were living with some of their relatives.
Some of the elders had established separate tents for such helpless widows.
Majority of such women had minor children with them and they had to look after them.
The helplessness of such old, weak and unfortunate women was observed when their camp people usually avoid them while dealing with the new comers.
Every one of them wants early registration, aid and other medicines.
The ageing old Afghan women, clad in traditional light blue burga usually sit around the mob.
They could not neither afford pushing the people to move forward nor any body is there to listen them.
Though, they try to apprise each and every one of them but useless.
The agony of such a lady was worth seeing when she heard the male members of the same camp asking this correspondent to give her a fake chit to get rid of her, when she was insisting for her registration despite our repeated introduction that we are not the concerned people.
“Balbala”, widow with five children had reached to this camp from Baghlan province seven day back.
Clad in extremely old blue Afghani burga, along with her five children, was standing at a corner after trying to get some medicines from RAWA medical camp.
The extremely disappointed lady seems educated, said that they would wait for the whole day but she would get nothing.
She had pain in her stomach but rushed towards this gathering when she heard that a team of the lady doctors had visited the camp.
Her elder son and daughter were ill but she was unable to get even a chit for medical check up.
Terming it a joke with the helpless people, she said, these medicines would help none of them.
“I will wait but whether it is not sufficient for the standing women in front of them”, she added.
Her elder son had not gone for begging on Tuesday so that they would register themselves and shift to Shamshatu camp where they would be getting some aid.
The refugees here are not given any aid and they had to earn for themselves.
Another widow, Zuhra, was worried for getting medical chit and medicines.
She had a son about 15, whose nose was bleeding.
Ram Din had three widows. His three brothers were killed while fighting with Russians.
His one sister in law had two children, another six and the third one had three children.
He had foodstuff for another two days. He was here for the last 10 days.
“Jamila”, who was not aware about her life as to whether he is alive or dead. She said Taliban had arrested her husband and since then he is missing. She came here with her brother 11 days back.
The helpless Afghan women severely criticised both the ruling Taliban and Norther Alliance for pushing their own nation into such miseries.
Both of them are responsible for the destruction of their country and making their own nation as beggars into other countries.
Another elder, Turkman, complained that he was not only beaten by the Taliban but also looted by the Pakistani security officials at Torkham boarder.
Another young from Baghlan province said that the world was treating as if they were dogs.
The world bodies usually throw a bone and we, the poor and hungry Afghan start fighting with each other’s.
An elder Afghan, Syed Faquir, had 10 widows, Agha Khan 6, Dolat Mohammad 18, Abdul Shakoor, one widow with her four children, Amirullah, 7, Sherzaman 5, Abdul Manan of Karabagh, 11 along with four children, Noorullah, 6, Sikandar, 4, Shah Agha 4, Mohammad Aman from Baghlan, 11.
Every refugees had widows and orphans and they do not know as to how long, they would lost their men in the on going civil war in their war torn country.
Almost all of them were unanimous in their complaints against the lack of medical facilities.
“Our children are dying from severe cold. There is no arrangements for them. The hospital authorities usually give us only few capsul. They examine only 50 patients and leave them in lurch”, they added.
Dr Sahibzada Rafi, who had one doctor, one female Medical Officer, dispenser, LHV, Mother Child Health Assistant and vaccinator, was not agreed with the reported death of the children, saying that he had been providing treatment to them for the last three days.
He did not receive a single death report. Showing his reports, he said that he usually examine from 200 to 300 patients a day.
He would start vaccination from Wednesday. He said that he had received nine cases of dysentery.
According to him, the major problem here was the non-availability of potable water and sewerage system. He said it would deteriorate the situation if proper attention were not paid towards these two problems.
But the detail investigation in the camp revealed that another six children died due to the severe cold and diseases during the last three days.
The residents said that they had buried Sana Gul, son of Noor Ali, Nadir Shah son of Qalandar, —son of Chinar, Nadir Shah son of Behadar Khan within three days.
“We have not even stones for our children graves”, they complained.
World turns back on Afghan refugees
NNI, Jan.11, 2001
ISLAMABAD (NNI): Forced from their homes by civil war, a shattered economy and chronic drought, tens of thousands of Afghan refugees are stranded in freezing squalor while world sympathy for their plight runs dry.
United Nations aid workers say displaced Afghans now make up the world's biggest body of refugees, yet recent decisions by neighbouring countries to keep them out, and a slump in international donor interest, is forcing thousands of families into new danger, World News reported Wednesday.
More than 10,000 refugees fleeing renewed fighting between the Taliban and forces of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance are trapped on two small islands in the Panj river on the border with Tajikistan. They cannot move forward because Tajikistan refuses to let them in, and cannot go back because of Taliban shelling. Families are said to have dug holes in the ground to shelter from shelling and sub-zero temperatures.
Yusuf Hassan, regional spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said: "The situation there is critical. The medical condition of 30 people is very bad and we have asked the authorities there to allow them in [to Tajikistan] to get urgent medical attention. But there has been absolutely no response. Tajikistan is violating international law and the convention on refugees to which it is a signatory."
Mr Hassan says refugee relief workers have only limited access to the islands, which are guarded by the Russians who patrol the Tajik border. "You need permission to get in and even when you get it you cannot station people there because of the shelling," he said. "The Taliban are about one kilometre away."
Tajikistan's decision last month to turn its back on the refugees is typical of a hardening of attitudes in countries that border Afghanistan, as well as a slump in funding by donor countries. Britain's contribution to the UNHCR Afghan programme was $7.5m (£5m) in 1992; today it is $843,000.
Another factor is that a new set of UN sanctions, intended to press the Taliban to surrender Osama bin Laden, comes into effect in a few weeks' time. "The OBL factor," as Mr Hassan terms it, is proving a thorn in the side of the UNHCR. "The victims of Afghanistan's repressive policies are being doubly punished as they are not getting the attention they need. The lack of international support for the Afghan people is shocking and frustrating. There must be some burden-sharing."
Most of that burden has been borne by Pakistan and Iran, which house 1.2 million and 1.5 million refugees respectively. But compassion is wearing thin in both countries.
Pakistan formally closed its border to Afghan refugees in November, but the policy is impossible to enforce and about 30,000 are known to have entered Pakistan since. Before the closure refugees would be met by aid workers and moved to camps, but now they enter a bureaucratic black hole.
This week the UNHCR is moving several thousand refugees from a primitive temporary camp at Jalozai, in North-West Frontier Province. Conditions there have shocked relief workers and destroyed refugees' last shreds of dignity.
"There is no privacy. They are huddled in makeshift tents of plastic sheets and old pieces of clothing," Mr Hassan said. "People have to defecate in the open, in front of other members of their families. These are proud people who have never been out of their country. Even during the Russian period in Afghanistan, they stayed. Now they are put in a position where they are helpless, desperate."
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