Thousands of hungry Afghan refugees huddle near Tajik-Afghan border
Friday, January 12 12:31 PM SGT
KUNDUZ REFUGEE CAMP, Afghanistan, Jan 12 (AFP) - Hunger, disease and cold greet thousands who fled the intensifying warfare in Afghanistan to the island refuge on the Pyandzh River.
Some 13,000 refugees are huddled on the border with neighboring Tajikistan in a spontaneous camp ridden with malaria and diphtheria, with meager humanitarian aid providing but scant relief from hunger.
The camp on the border river Pyandzh had been set up four months ago, when the inhabitants of the town of Imam-Sakhib fled a Taliban offensive. By now, the camp features representatives of every tribe in the war-torn Afghanistan -- Tajik, Uzbek, Turkmen, Hazara and Pashtun.
The refugees shelter in huts made of reed, sleeping on grass-laden floors without any blankets. Disease and cold have already claimed the lives of several children.
Mairal Azizrakhmon said she did not remember when her six-year-old daughter and herself last ate to their fill, after the Taliban forced her family out of their home in September.
"Three days ago we ate soup that a family in no less misery than us shared with us. We want bread and warm clothes," she said.
The 60-year-old Fozil and his family used to farm and tend livestock only half a year ago. But then, Fozil says, "those infidel Taliban burned our house to the ground and took the sheep away."
"Had we lingered, they would have killed my whole family too," he added.
However, despite the misery in the refugee camp, the family would not abandon Afghanistan to seek shelter in the neighboring former Soviet republic of Tajikistan.
"We would prefer to die in the land of our ancestors," he said, cradling his three-year-old son in his arms.
"As soon as Afghanistan's government forces (Taliban's opponents) free our city, we will return, even though we don't know what the Taliban did to our homes," confirmed another refugee who gave his name as Abdulkhalif.
But there is little hope that the supporters of the ousted president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who control scarcely 10 per cent of Afghanistan, could prevail against the Taliban which are as close as five kilometres (three miles) away from the camp.
"By day the Taliban shoot at anyone they see by the river, even if it's a child or a woman come to take water. They kill livestock too," 36-year-old Gulogo, a Pashtun national, said.
The camp, protected by the Alliance, is surrounded by Taliban on three sides, and refugees sometimes venture to cross the border, guarded by Russian border patrols under Moscow's accord with Dushanbe.
Should the refugees be forced over the border, Russian patrols would not shoot at them, taking them instead to temporary refugee camps set up in Tajikistan, pledged Lieutenant-Colonel Sergei Novikov, the Pyandzh border guard's deputy commander.
"The Taliban will not go any further than the border. Russian border guards have located sufficient force and military equipment on the frontier near the camp," Novikov told AFP confidently.
The camp itself is well-ordered, said the Russian officer who contacted the camp's leaders each time the border patrols sent international humanitarian aid over to the camp.
According to Said Ibrahim Khikmat, the anti-Taliban coalition's ambassador in Dushanbe, the 20-year-long conflict created some four million refugees, ten thousand of whom found shelter in Tajikistan.
"Unless the refugees receive immediate aid, they are doomed to a horrible tragedy," Saidrasul Musavi, Iran's ambassador to Tajikistan, told AFP.
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