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Short statement on the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan
children in the notorious Jalozai refugee camp
Children in the notorious Jalozai refugee camp (©c.mann)

Whilst on a fact-finding mission to Pakistan with RAWA, I was taken from December 18th to 20th last to visit camps in the Peshawar area, in particular Atora Khatak and Jalozai. I was sneaked into the camp under a black veil as journalists and outsiders are no longer permitted to go there : even RAWA has to bring in aid in secret. Hardly surprising as the local authorities don’t want the world to see the level of starvation and despair in these appalling places who have made it to the news on several occasions..
Atora Khatak, is a sprawl of mud-huts in the midst of some kind of scrub land, which houses different ‘generations’ of Afghan refugees fleeing Soviets and especially the Taliban. Like all the camps, this one is run by a Pakistani commander put in place by local authorities. People repeatedly told me that no aid whatsoever has been distributed for the past five months, except for one distribution of flour for Ramazan. I was told that the commander (who was named as 'Gullabi') pockets aid and resells it as well as running a crime and drugs racket with the three local imams (priests) whose names were given as Sherif, Samar and Hamid-the latter is known, women told me, to have raped a woman in the camp.
There is no schooling, drug consumption is high amongst women as well as men. Not to mention the health problems: I met a child whose foot was deformed by polio, I dread to think of the epidemics in summer.
I was told that Shelter Now has built some housing and there is evidence of some more donations (a beautiful but perfectly useless cart in one person’s yard), smaller NGOs have not been allowed in, it seems . When RAWA brings in supplies, there are riots as organisation and cooperation with camp authorities are inexistent.
I went briefly to the notorious Jalozai camp, mile upon mile of tiny tents made of any scrap material, mainly rags, blankets with here and there the UNHCR logo emblazoning a ragged panel. In the parts I visited,only partly overflowing with recent arrivals following American bombings,there was no access to water, electricity, sanitation or any kind of
resources. Women cooked between the tents on fires built between piles of bricks. The filth is indescribable, children cough pitifully, their mothers are emaciated. Older fundamentalists police the section fiercly,trying to keep women inside their tents, politics dominate even the camps. The winter cold is starting, I know that most of those I saw that day will not make it to the spring. Pakistanis are apt to tell you that there are comparable slums in other parts of the Subcontinent, even in Islamabad, but none is as paradoxically media- saturated and simultaneously cut-off from the world.

The people I talked to begged me to try and do something about their conditions. One feels so helpless, especially as we here all know that the world has donated millions to the cause of Afghan refugees and in truth, we may wonder what has happened to all the money. Corruption festers the situation all down the line, but it is clear that camp commanders such as this Gullabi should be investigated by the UNHCR and NGOs and this should be made a condition for granting aid. Right at the top, Pakistan should be obligated to accept this kind of continuous inspection in exchange for the credits that are pouring in. And efficient organizations such as RAWA along with competent local NGOs should be officially be put in charge of distribution alongside the responsible bodies of the local UNHCR. The problem is not insoluble- just one of tenacity and logistics- but when will anyone have the courage to tackle it ?

I have not done any additional research into this,I am quoting what I heard (as translated from the Dari and the Farsi by my friend from RAWA) by describing what I saw with the hope that this will not discourage donors, just oblige the responsible administrations and fund-collecting bodies to do their work to the end- and ensure that the help gets to where it's most needed.I may add that RAWA is doing worthwhile and essential work in these camps and should be entrusted by the larger agencies to do more.