Aid de­liv­ered to freez­ing refugees

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By Rod Nord­land

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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