Kandahar Refugees Endure New Misery in ‘No Man's Land'

Published December 6th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

The past five days and nights have left Shah Wali wondering if his family would have been better off taking their chances in bomb-ravaged Kandahar rather than starving in no man's land. 

Wali decided to take his wife and four children across the border last weekend as the US bombing of Kandahar reached new heights. But after reaching the frontier town of Spin Boldak, they have so far been unable to cross into Pakistan. 

As authorities struggle to cope with the tide of human misery on their doorstep, they are stuck with some 5,000 other refugees in no man's land with little food or shelter as temperatures plummet below freezing. 

"We had to leave the American bombing in Kandahar but now we are starving," said Wali, whose youngest child is just one. 

"There is no milk for my baby son, no food for us. His mother is breast-feeding him but she has not been getting food either. 

"Here the conditions are so bad that I am worried for my family." 

Farmer Khaliq Dad fled here from the Baba Saheb district of Kandahar around a week ago. His was one of seven families who made the journey at the same time but none has so far been registered to enter the relative sanctuary of a refugee camp in Pakistan. 

"We have no shelter or warm clothing," he said. 

"We are buying bread on the open market but now we have only 70 rupees (about a dollar) left and we will have to beg or starve when that money has gone. 

"I have never been so dishonoured in all these years," said the 45-year-old. 

The families had been forced to flee bombing which was heavier than anything seen during the war against the Soviets in the 1980s. His brother, cousin and uncle had all been killed, he added. 

"We fled with our shawls and have no warm clothing. We sleep in the open and the security police beat us," he said. 

A Karachi-based aid organisation al-Khair Trust distributed some 780 relief packages to those stuck in no man's land on Wednesday containing tents, blankets and food. 

The volume of refugees meant that workers could only hand out the packages to those deemed in most need, the organisation's head Mohammad Tahir told AFP. 

"We are giving preference to widows who are not accompanied by male relatives," he said. 

According to Nasim Mengal of the Pakistan government's Afghan Refugee Commissariat (ARC), the authorities are registering around 60 refugee families a day but 150-200 families were arriving at the site. 

Another ARC official said that more than 1,000 families were now in no man's land but he warned that many more refugees were waiting to cross from Spin Boldak where many aid agencies have ceased to operate amid a breakdown of law and order. 

More than three-quarters of the population of Kandahar is thought to have left the city since the start of the US bombing campaign two months ago. 

The new intensity of the American air strikes has prompted a fresh tide of departures, with many desperate to make it into Pakistan before temperatures drop even further over the Afghan winter – Pakistan (AFP)

© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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