Inside An Afghan Refugee Camp
Date: Saturday, March 03 2007
Mar 01, 2007 04:30 AM
JALOZOI–In the current sniping between the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan – with Canada piping up periodically, mostly to echo America – it is useful to think of the ordinary people most affected by all this geopolitics: the Afghans, more particularly, the Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
This camp, 25 kilometres southeast of Peshawar, is not far from the Afghan-Pakistan border. When I first came to this area after covering the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in early 1980, there were a few tents and a few hundred refugees.
Now Jalozoi is a semi-permanent ghetto of 54,000 people in mud houses abutting narrow lanes with open sewers.
It's one of nearly 50 camps across Pakistan. Between them and the urban centres, there are about 3 million Afghan refugees, out of the 5 million who originally came. Many of those who did go back after the 2001 fall of the Taliban have since returned.
The latest bad news is that a new batch of refugees are coming, fleeing the current chaos of southern Afghanistan. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says Iran has closed its border and Pakistan has placed tight controls at its border posts, forcing the refugees to "pay local smugglers" to cross over.
The irony of Afghans first fleeing the Soviet occupation and now NATO's is not lost on Pakistan. That aside, it wants the refugees gone. If they won't go, it wants to deport them.
Not only have they outlived their welcome, Pakistan is tired of being accused of harbouring the Taliban among them. It says that since most refugees, like the Taliban, are Pushtuns, it cannot know who is and is not a Talib
So, take them all back, please.
Pakistan is also planning to fence and/or mine parts of its 2,400-kilometre border with Afghanistan.
This is in response to Western accusations that the Taliban and Al Qaeda are infiltrating into Afghanistan from Pakistan.