Iftikhar Khan

PESHAWAR: Some families in Afghan refugee camps are searching for work to enable them to earn at least one-time meal a day, but they are unable to find any due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Fayyaz Ali Noor, a social worker who recently visited Afghan refugees camp in Peshawar’s Khazana area, said the coronavirus lockdown has made the lives of refugees more difficult, and that neither the Pakistani government nor their own Afghan government is bothering to help them out.

Moreover, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has also been unable to fix the situation as there hasn’t been any communication with it about this issue as yet.

Over 1,200 people live in the camp, including up to 700 women and children. The majority of the males in the camp, according to the social worker, are involved in public transport or some other similar jobs and had been unemployed for around four weeks.

“These families have exhausted all their savings and rations, and the health of the infants is under threat, which is the greatest concern for now. This is happening because neither the mothers nor the children are receiving adequate nutrition,” Fayyaz Ali told TNN.

Fayyaz said these folks are not eligible for financial assistance from the Pakistani government under the Benazir Income Support Program or the Ehsass Program, that’s why they are expecting help from the Afghan Commissionerate or UNHCR. But their offices are also closed for a few days because of corona fears, and there is no one to help them out. Besides, no social welfare organization has stepped up to help the people of Khazana camp so far.

Despite Fayyaz Ali’s efforts, no one in the camp stepped forward and told about their issues in front of the media. Because it was widely assumed that doing so would enrage local officials at the Afghan Consulate and the UNHCR. And as a result, their other issues will also be ignored.

Dr Sohail, another social worker who recently visited the Razar and Utmanzai Afghan refugee camps in Charsadda, feels the same way.

Dr Sohail claims that the situation on camps is dire, but residents are not willing to speak up. He claimed that if ration and other necessities were not delivered to the camp occupants as soon as possible, starvation and fatigue would take its toll.

In the 43 camps in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there are 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees, with the equal number of unregistered refugees. The majority of these refugees are affiliated with business and trade. However, the number of people affiliated with daily or monthly wages is very low.

Unlike residents of the Peshawar and Charsadda camps, Abdul Qayyum from Nowshera and Khairabad camps spoke frankly about the situation to TNN. Abdul Qayyum has lived in the camp for decades, and in many forums, he represents not just his camp, but also hundreds of people from the adjoining Kund camp.

According to Abdul Qayyum, Afghan refugees’ issues are intensified by the lockdown because they do not have money in banks or cash in their houses. Even those who are well off aren’t in good condition because their money is being trapped by others in the name of business.

“Afghans are now allowed to open bank accounts in Pakistan, but there are very few who have opened accounts, while the rest invest their money somewhere else,” Abdul Qayyum said.

He said some of the camp’s wealthier residents first helped their loved ones and neighbors financially, as well as provided them with ration, but due to the prolonged lockdown, they are now more cautious with their spending because they are fearing that they may run out of money for their own expenses. As the period of lockdown prolonged, the work opportunities vanished inside the camp as well, because of which people have stopped spending money.

A representative of the Afghan refugees camp shared that they had provided the Afghan Commissionerate with details of the camp’s residents about two weeks ago, and they anticipated that assistance from the Commissionerate and UNHCR would reach soon, but after the submission, there was no further communication.

He said that while the Afghan Commissionerate enquired about their status to some extent, the Afghan Consulate has totally ignored them.

 

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