Parallels
9:31 am
Tue March 18, 2014

For Afghans In Camps, A Harsh Life With No End In Sight

Originally published on Tue March 18, 2014 5:58 pm

The Nasaji Bagrami camp for internally displaced Afghans sits on the outskirts of Kabul, a vast expanse of crumbling mud structures with tarps and tent sheets for roofs. These structures look like ruins from hundreds of years ago, but they're actually only about 5 years old.

About 360 families live here in absolutely primitive conditions: Litter is strewn about, children wander around barefoot in the cold, barely clothed yet still smiling and playing with each other.

Niasbibi, who appears to be around 60, heads one of the families. She fled from the southern province of Helmand two years ago after her village was hit by what she says was a NATO airstrike. She says she lost a daughter, her husband, four grandchildren and one of her eyes during the incident.

She's surrounded by several unwashed grandchildren in tattered clothes. One has two large scars on his head. He was hit by a car while doing what many children here do: working in the streets to earn money for the family to buy food.

On some days, her grandchildren attend a school in the camp established by an NGO, but the teachers show up irregularly. At least the children are usually able to get food there, she says.

Mohammed Ibrahim is the camp elder and one of the original settlers here. He says he fled Helmand province almost five years ago along with about 80 other families. He says it's still too dangerous to return home.

"A few families recently returned to Helmand, and they were killed," says Ibrahim.

The camp has no electricity, sewage system or running water. Several times a day, 50-year-old Rosadin, who lives nearby, tows a small water tank into the camp with his tractor.

He fills dirty plastic jugs from his tank. Residents pay about 50 cents for 20 liters of water.

"I feel sad when I come here," Rosadin says. "I feel that they have no alternative than to live in these harsh conditions."

Ibrahim says most of the people living in these conditions would prefer to die.

"It's a terrible life, and it's an honor to die to leave this kind of life," he says.

This is just one of more than 50 such camps across Kabul alone where tens of thousands of people live in similar harsh conditions.

Mahir Hoda Sabar, the director of Internally Displaced Persons in the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, says the number of displaced Afghans has increased by about 100,000 over the past year.

Sabar says the government isn't having much luck in resettling the displaced in peaceful communities because residents don't want Afghans from other provinces moving into their villages and competing for limited jobs and resources.

Martin Cottingham, the media and advocacy manager for Islamic Relief, first visited this camp last fall.

"The only things that have changed for the better are not down to anything that the authorities have done," says Cottingham. "It's because we're here on a sunny day, and it's a little less cold than it was when I was last here."

As a result, he says, there are fewer people here who are shivering and hungry today.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Come the end of this year, most, if not all, of the roughly 34,000 American troops in Afghanistan will head home. But because of continuing insecurity in that country, there are still more than 600,000 internally displaced Afghans who can't return home. Mostly they live in desperate conditions, as NPR's Sean Carberry found when he visited one large camp.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRD CHIRPING)

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILD LAUGHING)

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: This is the Nasaji Bagrami camp for internally displaced Afghans here in Kabul. This camp is a vast expanse of crumbling mud structures with tarps and tent sheets for roofs. Looking at these structures, they look like ruins from hundreds of years ago, yet they're actually only about five years old.

DARI NIASBIBI: (Speaks foreign language)

CARBERRY: Niasbibi, who appears to be around 60, is the head of one of some 360 families here. She fled from southern Helmand Province two years ago after her village was hit by what she says was a NATO air strike.

NIASBIBI: (Speaking foreign language)

CARBERRY: She lost a daughter, her husband, four grandchildren and one of her eyes during the incident. Today she and nine family members live in two small mud shelters, each about the size of a backyard tool shed in suburban America.

NIASBIBI: (Speaking foreign language)

CARBERRY: On this morning, Niasbibi is surrounded by several unwashed grandchildren in tattered clothes. One has two large scars on his head. He was hit by a car doing what many children here do: working in the streets to earn money for the family to buy food.

MOHAMMED IBRAHIM: (Speaking foreign language)

CARBERRY: Mohammed Ibrahim is the camp elder. He says he fled southern Helmand Province almost five years ago along with about 80 other families who built this camp. He says it's still too dangerous to return home.

IBRAHIM: (Through translator) A few families recently returned to Helmand, and they were killed.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRACTOR)

CARBERRY: The camp has no electricity, sewage system, or running water. Several times a day, 50-year old Rosadin, who lives nearby, tows a small water tank into the camp with his tractor.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER POURING)

CARBERRY: He fills dirty plastic jugs. Residents pay about 50 cents for 20 liters of water.

ROSADIN: (Speaking foreign language)

CARBERRY: I feel sad when I come here, Rosadin says. I feel that they have no alternative than to live in these harsh conditions. Camp elder Mohammed Ibrahim says most of the people living in these conditions would prefer to die.

IBRAHIM: (Through translator) It's a terrible life, and it's an honor to die to leave this kind of life.

CARBERRY: And this is just one of more than 50 such camps across Kabul alone, where tens of thousands of people live in similar harsh conditions.

MEHR KHUDA SABAR: (Speaking foreign language)

CARBERRY: Mehr Khuda Sabar is the director of Internally Displaced Persons in the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation. He says the number of IDPs has increased by about 100,000 over the last year, with some of them simply coming to Kabul in hopes of finding work.

SABAR: (Speaking foreign language)

CARBERRY: Sabar says that after years of debate the ministry has just now finalized a new policy designed to help IDPs, though he says he doesn't actually know how much money his ministry has to provide assistance to IDPs. And so for years the U.N. and other international organizations have tried to fill the Afghan government's financial and capacity gaps.

(SOUNDBITE OF BABY CRYING)

CARBERRY: This is a small clinic funded by the World Health Organization here at the Nasaji Bagrami camp, and the NGO Islamic Relief helped out this winter by providing charcoal for wood stoves in this and 22 other camps in Kabul. Martin Cottingham is the media and advocacy manager for Islamic Relief, and he first visited this camp last fall.

MARTIN COTTINGHAM: The only things that have changed for the better are not down to anything that the authorities have done - it's because we're here on a sunny day, and it's a little less cold than it was when I was last here.

CARBERRY: As a result, he says there are fewer people here who are shivering and hungry today. Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.