Aid delivered to freezing refugees
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on Sunday distributed emergency cold weather supplies to families in a refugee camp where two days earlier a 3-year-old child died of exposure to the cold.
Immediately, however, camp leaders and Afghan government officials criticized the aid delivery as inadequate to protect camp residents from continued cold weather conditions and to prevent further deaths of children from the cold.
Last winter more than 100 children died of the cold in refugee camps around Kabul, with 26 of the deaths in the Charahi Qambar camp in Kabul. That is also where the child died Friday, the first confirmed death this winter due to the cold.
The distribution at the camp in western Kabul city, which has about 900 families, had been scheduled and was not prompted by news reports about the child’s death, according to Mohammad Nader Farhad, a spokesman for the UNHCR in Kabul.
On less than an hour’s notice, the agency convened a news conference with Afghan government officials at the camp to announce the distribution.
Each family was given warm clothing for children, blankets, tarps, cooking utensils and soap. Separately, other aid groups, financed by the U.N. and other donors, will be distributing charcoal once a month through February.
U.N. officials acknowl- edged, however, that the fuel distributions were not enough to heat the mud and tarp huts throughout the cold season, and there are no plans to distribute food to the families.
In most cases the men, who are largely war-displaced refugees, are unable to find casual day labor work in the cold weather, so they are usually unable to buy food.
Farhad said, “The assistance we are providing, at least it is mitigating the harsh winter these families are experiencing right now.”
The estimated 35,000 people in 50 camps in and around Kabul city are not classified as refugees from an international legal point of view, but as “internally displaced persons.” Since the UNHCR’s mandate is primarily to help refugees, defined as those who flee across international borders, in the past it has not provided support to these camps.
That changed late last winter when the Afghan government asked it to do so in response to the emergency conditions that were taking so many lives.
In the past, both aid officials and Afghan government officials have said they were wary about providing too much aid to the Kabul camps, for fear it would turn the camps into magnets and encourage more people to leave their homes elsewhere in the country.
That fear has also been why the Afghan government has refused to allow permanent buildings to be built in the camps, many of which are five or more years old.
Afghan women wait to receive winter relief assistance donated by the United Nation’s refugee agency outside a refugee camp in Kabul on Sunday. About 600 displaced families in the camp received relief from the agency.