Afghanistan Refugees: In Their Own Words

Sedamin and Gulmana Woch Tangai Returnee Refugee Camp Near Jalabad, Afghanistan

“We are originally from Shegla in Kunar Province. Twenty-eight years ago we left for Pakistan because of the Russian invasion. Russians invaded the area where we came from in Shegal and many people were killed. Four people in our family died – my parents, my uncle and his wife. All were killed by Russian bombs. We were not alone – everybody lost family members and property during these attacks.

The situation started to get much worse and along with many other families, we had no choice but to leave for Pakistan. Without any other form of transportation, we walked to Bajor, a tribal areal near to Shegal but on the Pakistani side of the border. When these troubles began, my wife and I were only recently married and we carried our two young daughters across the border. Nobody was able to bring much – the walk was difficult and because we had to leave in a hurry, we couldn’t take anything with us. After crossing the border into Pakistan we went to the Mayat Kalay camp for refugees and received help from humanitarian assistance organizations working there.  We settled there for nearly twenty years.

This is where we raised the rest of our family. It was very strange for us to go to Pakistan with nothing, and become dependent on the humanitarian assistance organizations and the Pakistani government. We were not used to living like this – I had always worked for what we had. Just before the Taliban government fell, we returned to Kunar but there were no jobs.  A year later we left for Jalalabad with the hope of finding work. Kunar had become increasingly unsafe and I was scared the same things would happen as when the Russians invaded, so I made the decision to bring my family here.

We managed to bring some of our possessions from when we lived in the camps but we lost many things along the way. All of our children are here with us: six daughters, three sons, and my wife, Gulmana. My brother, his wife and children have all come too, so there are now over twenty of us living in these small shelters. Since we arrived in Woch Tangai last year, we have received no assistance other than the free medical care International Medical Corps provides at the clinic. Without this I don’t know what we would do. This morning my wife brought our only little grandchild to be treated for an illness, and awhile back the doctor there also treated me for a chest infection. I wouldn’t have been able to afford paying for transport to Jalalabad and medical care. One problem is that we are not classified as returning refugees from Pakistan because we came here from Kunar this time, and not directly through Pakistan. We also didn’t register when we crossed back over the border to get back to Kunar before the Taliban fell.  We didn’t see the point as I thought our family would be able to settle in our old community and I would be able to start work again.

There is a school here in the camp that two of my sons and three of my daughters attend – it is free and they get given free books too. The World Food Program gives food free to students who attend school at lunchtime but we don’t receive food assistance for the rest of the family. The land here is not fertile – it is very rocky and there is no way that we can grow food.

We are all illiterate, so I really just don’t understand how to go about the process of registering my family with the department of Refugees and Repatriation as returnees in order to make us eligible for assistance.

My biggest worry and our biggest problem is our poor financial status. We have no real shelter other than what we have been able to make from mud and some old plastic sheeting and we have no means of buying anything else. The winter is nearly here and it is going to get very cold and we have no money to buy charcoal to keep us warm. I have just spent our last Afghans on buying a bag of flour. We have to buy food daily whenever I can scrape together enough money, or on the good will of our neighbors. I try to work as a laborer, building walls for people’s houses from stone. I get one hundred and fifty Afghans a day building walls but it isn’t regular work and this week I don’t have a job.

My brother has a sewing machine and does tailoring in the camp so at least the children have clothes to wear.  However, his income isn’t enough to feed us all. We have no choice but to stay here – there is nowhere else for us to go and we have no money to get us there anyway. I can only hope that at some point we will be able to register our status as returnees and get some form of assistance.”

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