Socialist Worker

Afghanistan: eyewitness to the camps

Afghanistan is in the midst of a refugee crisis. According to the United Nations Refugee Organisation over 235,000 people are displaced. As winter will see temperatures fall as low as minus 15 degrees, those in an already weakened state and living in t

Issue No. 2124

Taws Khan (wearing black turban) and another village elder in one of Kabul’s many refugee camps. These former farmers are unable to feed their families, relying on charitable handouts and selling their labour cheaply to fend off starvation. Most of the co

Taws Khan (wearing black turban) and another village elder in one of Kabul’s many refugee camps. These former farmers are unable to feed their families, relying on charitable handouts and selling their labour cheaply to fend off starvation. Most of the co


Heading south west out of Kabul the buildings gradually dissipate until the sprawl of semi-deserted workshops give way to the desert. Further down the road a vast sea of flimsy tents come into view.

The camp has no name but is home to around 900 families – all are refugees from the fighting in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar.

I sat with Taws Khan, the appointed camp spokesman, and seven other elders. They were keen to show me official government papers detailing the families in the camp, and lists of people killed by Nato forces.

“There are people here without legs, without arms – all from the bombs. And, I swear you will not find any family that has been here for less than six months,” says Taws.

A glance at the children in the camp confirmed what he was saying. Their dry, tired faces looked older than their tender years. Most are painfully thin with protruding ribs and cheekbones. Many with their heads shaved to keep the lice and other parasites at bay.

Taws says that some children died soon after their arrival. The trauma of fleeing their villages combined with the exhausting journey and the germs of a polluted city was too much for them. But today it is the lack of food and clean water that are the main killers.

Elsewhere in Kabul people celebrated the festival of Eid by buying presents, clothes and food in the shops and bazaars, but in the camp there would be no feast or gifts for the children. Only greater uncertainty as the weather grows steadily colder.

Every day the men of the camp head towards the city hoping to get work as labourers. But unemployment is high in Kabul, so they are not popular with the locals.

“The men wait all day for work then come home with no money,” says Taws.

Servitude

“We want our government to take some responsibility for our suffering. The agriculture minister gave each family plastic for the floor of their tent.

“Aside from this nothing has been done – not from the president or anyone else. We have been to see the minister for refugees many times but no help has come.

“Some families have sold a child because they are starving,” he adds, and the expressions on the faces of the other elders tell me that this is no exaggeration.

Taws says that the price for a refugee child sold into servitude is 50,000 Afghanis – around £600 – and that for some families this has become the only way to survive.


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