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The Killid Group

In an endless war, refugee numbers swell

Written by Saeed Zabuli, Larawai in Paktia and Momand in Nangarhar
Saturday, 16 July 2011 10:56

In an endless war, refugee numbers swell Civilians caught in the cross fire are fleeing their ancestral homes in Afghanistan's war affected provinces. But is it a case of jumping from the pan into the fire? Their need of help is urgent.
Villagers from Kunar are the latest to migrate to Kabul from Afghanistan's war affected provinces. Kabul's population has swelled by tens of thousands in recent years. A new report by Refugees International, titled 'Afghanistan: Responsible U.S. Transition Must Address Displacement Crisis', estimates 250,000 Afghans may have become refugees in their own country over the last two years, a figured confirmed by UNHCR. In fact, its spokesperson, Nadir Farhad, told Killid that war has displaced 400,000 people in Afghanistan over the years.
Most internally displaced people or IDPs in official jargon are from Helmand province, where war actions by government and NATO forces to oust the Taleban have intensified since 2009. The most recent are those uprooted by military operations in Marja last year. There was also an exodus of civilians from neighbouring Kandahar, Zabul and Urozgan provinces.
IDPs in Kabul live in makeshift tent camps along Qargha Road; Huzori Chaman near the Ghazi Stadium that gained notoriety for public executions during the Taleban regime; and Bagrami district in Kabul province.
"We were bombarded, our homes were destroyed and most of our village people were martyred," says Faizullah from Helmand province who lives in the Qargha camp.
Dad Muhammad, 55, arrived with his family from Kandahar in 2010. His family has suffered in this war, he says. "We were forced to leave our homes because of bombardment; four members of my family have been martyred."
The family is huddled under a tent that he put up on Qargha Road. No one from the government has ever helped him, he says. "We are very poor," he adds, almost like an after thought.
Recently, more than a hundred refugee families returned to Urozgan, according to Pajhwok news agency. They went back because living in tents through Kabul's severe winters and searing summers is hell, say other IDPs. With Ramadan only weeks away many people Killid spoke to appeared both anxious and frustrated by their plight. Most people stay home during the fast. The IDPs have only a canvas tent.
"We are concerned about the Ramadan month," says Rozi Shah from Helmand. He left the southern province because he could no longer take the killing and night time raids by both sides during military operations in Helmand.
The stories we hear from IDPs in the Bagrami area are similar. Abdullah's face does not hide his deep disappointment when he talks about the government. The Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Taleban forced him to leave his ancestral village, he says, therefore the government should compensate IDPs with new homes and jobs.
At present Afghanistan's war displaced fend for themselves. "We barely earn 80 to 100 Afs a day, which is just enough to pay for our breakfast," Abdullah complains.

"It is the worst war"
For the past three weeks there has been intense fighting between the ANA and Taleban in Watapoor district of Kunar province. Abdullah Gul, a resident of Watapoor, describes his village as a battlefield. Scared villagers left everything including their shoes behind when they fled, he says. "It is the worst war," he declares, "One can not recognise a relative from an enemy. They were fighting house-to-house.  Several Taliban and ANA soldiers were killed."
Several IDPs from Watapoor protested outside the Kunar provincial council. They wanted the government to protect them. An IDP was heard yelling: "This is no government. The government is compelling us to escape (from villages). Come and see my situation. My children are with my relatives, and I have nothing to feed them!"
At least, 600 families have abandoned their villages, says Haji Mia Hassan Adil, speaker of the Kunar provincial assembly. Abdul Ahad, security commander of Watapoor, pegs that number at 800 families.
Wasifullah Wasifi, the spokesman for the Kunar governor, insists the provincial government will help the war displaced. The concerned agencies have been instructed to provide relief which will reach the refugees very soon, he insists.
The media office of ISAF for eastern Afghanistan in Nangarhar has denied civilians were displaced by military operations in the area.
More families have been uprooted by rocket attacks on Afghanistan's eastern and southeastern border by the Pakistan army since May 18. 
Some 667 families were forced to abandon homes in "Khadikhail, Shungrai, Sekandari and Sobaki villages in Sarkanu district", says Sultan Sediqi, secretary of the Kunar provincial assembly.
Muhammad Saleem, an IDP in Shaltan Valley from Shegal district, says he has lost some members of his family in the rocket attacks.
According to Kunar governor, Sayed Fazlullah Wahidi, 1,600 families have been displaced by Pakistani shelling from Dangam, Sakanu, Shegal and Narai districts of Kunar. "They have not been helped yet; they live with their relatives," he said. 
The Pakistani military have been firing on Gushta district, Nangarhar province, for the last six months. At least 2,500 people have fled their homes, and are staying with relatives, the governor of Nangarhar, Zia Abdul Zai, said. In Paktia province, some 80 families from Soorikhail village, Gerda Serai district, have moved to Gardez, a city in the centre of the province, fearing reprisal attacks by the Taleban.

Living in the desert
The Paktia IDPs live under the open sky. "Taleban came and fired rockets at our houses. So we left our houses, and live in the desert now," says an old woman. Only Red Crescent Society has come forward to help them with food and clothes.
Shah Wali Khan, waiting in the compound of the Red Crescent Society to collect aid, says he has no idea if the attackers were from Waziristan or somewhere else, "but they were shouting 'Long Live Pakistan' and fired at us from four sides."  
Abdul Rahman Mangal, deputy governor of Paktia, however, believes the exodus from the village was the result of tribal or political enmity. Meanwhile, the Taleban have claimed the attack was on one family in the village, because a member was a government informer, a charge the family denies.
The biggest movement of IDPs anywhere in Afghanistan was the 2010 exodus from Arghandab and Zherai districts in Kandahar as a result of war. Muhammad Azam Nawabi, the director of refugees in Kandahar province, was quoted by the French agency, AFP, saying, "Over 900 families had come to Kandahar city from Arghandab and Zherai districts within one month." 
In Kabul, hundreds of refugees gather outside the Refugees Directorate every day in the hope that they would be allotted houses to live in. Also present are Afghans who were refugees in Afghanistan's neighbouring countries. They are staking claim to promises of land to build houses made to returning refugees in a decree (number 104) by President Hamid Karzai.
Nazar Gul who moved to Shah Managal in Laghman province from Pakistan a year ago, says he has paid six futile visits to the Refugees Directorate in Kabul. "It (the process of applying for plots) takes a long time," he confides. "They do not instruct me well and keep asking for documents. Once they sent me (back) to Laghman for a document. When I came back, they sent me for another."
Meanwhile, Habib, another refugee from Pakistan in Laghman, has been living in someone else's yard with his family. He says he cannot afford to rent a house even though sharing the yard is far from easy.
Abdul Samad Rohani, deputy minister in the Ministry of Refugees & Repatriation says some 5.5 million Afghans have returned willingly from Iran and Pakistan in the last decade. The government has ambitious plans for their resettlement. Rohani said: "Ministry of Refugees & Repatriation has decided to build 60 towns in 32 provinces."
The new report by Refugees International released in June confirms that most IDPs do not want to return home for fear of retaliatory attacks.
And, according to the report, following operations against the Taleban in Faryab province by ISAF and Afghan security forces, 10,000 civilians left the province in January and 12,000 in May 2010.
With the war showing no signs of ending, Afghanistan's civilians are caught in a tragedy without end.

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