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41: From conflict to cold camp

Nang Durrani
An estimated 40,000 people who have fled their homes because of violence in their provinces now find themselves displaced and living in camps in Kabul. For the time being at least they are safely away from the…
18.03.2013  |  Kabul
A teacher takes a pupil through the different times of day - morning, afternoon, late afternoon (a local specification), evening and night - at a camp in Kabul. (Photos: Nang Durrani)
A teacher takes a pupil through the different times of day - morning, afternoon, late afternoon (a local specification), evening and night - at a camp in Kabul. (Photos: Nang Durrani)

Many left their homes in provinces affected by insecurity and conflict only to have to survive the below freezing winter in a tent in Kabul alongside thousands of others.

Over half a million Afghans are internally displaced, according to a report entitled 'Challenges to IDP Protection' published in 2012 by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that the displacement of 400,000 people alone is “conflict-induced.”

Families from provinces with ongoing fighting such as Helmand, Kandahar and Laghman continue to leave their homes in search of security. I went to visit a camp for internally displaced people (IDP) in Kabul’s Parwan-e Doo area: a sprawling informal settlement of makeshift tents with dangling plastic bags.

Payenda Khiel, an eight-year-old girl, has been in the camp nearly a year. Her family left their home in Laghman Province because of fighting between government and anti-government forces.

“Taliban forced us out of our homes, they told us to fight the Americans, and if you don’t fight, you have to leave here to remain alive,” Payenda told Afghanistan Today.

Payenda is one of thousands of children who grew up under the shadow of violence, yet must now contend with food shortages and insecurity in camps, alongside seasonal extremities – scorching sun in summer or minus temperatures in winter - camp insecurity, overcrowding and poor sanitation.

Camps across the capital

Kabul is home to several informal settlements for IDPs from outer provinces, including in Charayee Qambar, Khushal Khan Meenah, Parwan-e Doo and other areas.

Some camps were established over 10 years ago and have basic infrastructure – the Parwan-e Doo camp fo example has two schools and a clinic, each housed in a tent.

Boys and girls study in separate tents. As a sign of respect all the girls, led by class leader Fazilah, stood up as I entered their class.

I asked Fazilah why her family migrated here. In a shivering voice she told me she and her family were also forced to move because of the ongoing war.

The teacher then called her to the black board, and as she stood there, I could see, in her blackened, rough and cracked hands, how life had taken its toll on the child. Fazilah has the highest grades in her class, but for now her focus is on working to help support her family.

Child breadwinners

“We are eight persons in our family, and this is the reason that me and my two younger brothers are going out to collect paper after school. We do so to prepare something for our family for the night,” says Fazilah, one of millions of children who work in Afghanistan.

In the boys ‘school’, the teacher is standing in a corner of the tent, as the pupils repeat the day’s lesson. The boys may not share the same classroom as the girls, but they’ve endured similar tough histories.

“Taliban forced us out of our homes, they told us to fight the Americans, and if you don’t fight, you have to leave here to remain alive.” Payenda Khiel, eight-year-old girl from Laghman now living in Kabul.

“There was a lot of fighting in Laghman Province, no one was able to leave the house after early evening, and if someone left their house, the Taliban would have taken them,” says a nine-year-old boy who greets me in a break.

A relatively large nearby tent houses a health centre, where doctors are busy distributing medicine and treatment to children. As I try to speak to a doctor who is assisting a patient, he tells me to come some other time because he must urgently attend to a group of children who have life-threatening pneumonia.

A community representative of the IDPs in the Parwan-e-Doo area, Shir Mohammad from Helmand, says that every year “children and the elderly lose their lives in the camp because of the winter cold.” Mohammad says his land was expropriated by local "powerful people" and that he too was forced to leave his province for Kabul.

"What is school?"

Yet at another camp hosting IDPs from Helmand across town in Charayee Qambar, conditions seem to be equally bad, if not worse. When I stop to ask a child if he is in school, he looks at me perplexed. “What is school?” he asks.

An elder in the camp says the winter cold has already claimed the lives of several of the camp’s residents. Mouhayudind is originally from Helmand Province - he was displaced to Kabul, he says, because of insecurity in the Gereshk district where he is originally from.

“In Kabul I am separated from all my relatives. What I should do with this kind of living?” says Mouhayudind.

The government has a plan

A spokesman for the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations (MoRR), Islamuddin Jurat, says the government and emergency relief agencies have been working together to prevent food shortages and distribute basic amenities throughout the camps.

“Nationwide there are 68,000 families who have been internally displaced from one province to another, and only 3,000 of these families live in Kabul,” said Jurat, adding that UNHCR and his ministry provide assistance to what is estimated to be around 40,000 IDPs living in Kabul.

Yet blankets and food parcels are unlikely to solve the crisis and the government has adopted a long-term repatriation strategy where it hopes it will be able to resettle the families or provide alternatives in neighbouring provinces.

The two-year strategy however will depend upon the government ensuring stability in provinces like Helmand, a task which is still in the balance.