by Maya Evans with Hakim
A few days ago we visited a refugee camp, in the Perwan Dodo area of Kabul. The camp is relatively small compared to camps we’ve visited previously, with around forty families occupying an area about the size of a football pitch. Most of the families were from Pawan Province which is to the north of Kabul. They had become internal refugees after fleeing from their homes due to the fighting or lack of jobs.
It had been raining the night before and the road in front of the camp was flooded. There was a man in knee length wellies wading up to his shins in the water sucking it up with a large tube coming from a truck. We ducked under a curtain of ragged sheets which acted as a makeshift wall between the camp and the busy road. The little lanes which weaved around the camp leading to the various huts were a mud fest. As soon as we stepped into the camp our shoes became encrusted with mud.
Janey had wanted to interview a mother in a refugee camp as part of her short film project about the life of mums in Afghanistan. We were introduced to Paiky, a 42 year old mother of six. Her home was a hut made from mud with a small porch area which seemed to be used for cooking and then a larger area where the family of eight lived. Our Afghan camerawoman Alka set up her equipment while Paiky arranged herself under a large green patterned blanket. We had yet to hear her story but it was already obvious that she was in a lot of pain.
Janey and I sat next to her while some of her children peeked from behind a curtain which led into the darkened main area of the hut. The interview initially started with some of the men present but after a few minutes Paiky requested that they leave. Once the men left the porch Paiky opened her heart and poured forth about her life and physical ailments. She had given birth to four of her six children alone. Her last birth was also unassisted and due to lack of medical care she is still in constant pain six years later. She says the discomfort is so extreme that she can’t wear trousers or any garment on the bottom half of her body. She lifted her blanket and dress to show me her swollen stomach with some extremely sore looking veins running across it. Janey later said she wasn’t in a position to see her stomach but my expression had said it all.
At the end of the interview I joked with three of Paiky’s children, my limited Dari allowed me to describe them as “dost” friends, and in reply they laughed and called me “holla”, aunty. When I looked into the soft eyes of Rafiq who was about eleven, his smile was so warm and sincere that I immediately felt a deep connection with him. Paiky explained that he was the main bread winner of the family. Every day he went out into the street and washed cars for a living, and my heart went further out to this eleven year old man.
Outside our male companions were talking to the elders of the camp. They were learning more about the political economics of the situation. Apparently, the site was previously occupied by another group of internally displaced people (IDPs) who have now been housed in a building development overlooking the present camp. The site is now part of the land grab racket which is currently gripping Afghanistan and is described by Barmak Pazhwak, at the US Institute of Peace, as “the next big conflict” for the country, while the Afghan Land Authority have assessed that 197,266 hectors of public land has been grabbed.
In 2008 Oxfam published a report which described land issues as now being the main cause of dispute within Afghanistan. The problem lies with the recent falsifying of land ownership documents. Previously there was no legal documentation proving the ownership of land in Afghanistan and land just belonged to families and was passed down between generations. The land theft has given rise to what is locally described as a “land mafia” who are suspected to be a mixture of rich corrupt property developers, drug dealers and war lords – many of whom are currently within the Afghan Government. Kabul is now gripped by this land theft racket.
In the case of this camp’s site, the previous refugees had negotiated a deal with the owner of the land, a rich property developer who is said also to have land in Canada and Dubai. Furthermore it is alleged that the developer had struck a deal with a warlord who negotiated housing for the refugees in return for their loyalty as fighters. The buying of refugees’ loyalty is now becoming common place. Many refugees who last year were considered among the poorest in the country are now relatively well off and living in new housing.
Property prices boomed in Kabul up to a year ago with rocketing rents fuelled by the large number of internationals living in Kabul who are earning big money. Recently rents have stalled and are predicted to level out, but are still at massively inflated prices by local standards. Everyday we hear about the problems for ordinary people in Afghanistan – a country with the highest number of drug addicts in the world; the highest infant mortality, mental health problems, domestic violence and internally displaced people – the list goes on and on. Land theft is just another problem to add.