Conflict Zones

For Afghans In Camps, A Harsh Life With No End In Sight

The Nasaji Bagrami camp for internally displaced Afghans sits on the outskirts of Kabul, a vast expanse of crumbling mud structures with tarps and tent sheets for roofs. These structures look like ruins from hundreds of years ago, but they're actually only about 5 years old.

A boy sits blowing bubbles against a blanket used as a door to a home in the Nasaji Bagrami camp for internally displaced Afghans in Kabul. i i
David Gilkey/NPR
A boy sits blowing bubbles against a blanket used as a door to a home in the Nasaji Bagrami camp for internally displaced Afghans in Kabul.
David Gilkey/NPR

About 360 families live here in absolutely primitive conditions: Litter is strewn about, children wander around barefoot in the cold, barely clothed yet still smiling and playing with each other.

Niasbibi is the head of one of some 360 families at the Nasaji Bagrami camp for internally displaced Afghans. i i
David Gilkey/NPR
Niasbibi is the head of one of some 360 families at the Nasaji Bagrami camp for internally displaced Afghans.
David Gilkey/NPR

Niasbibi, who appears to be around 60, heads one of the families. She fled from the southern province of Helmand two years ago after her village was hit by what she says was a NATO airstrike. She says she lost a daughter, her husband, four grandchildren and one of her eyes during the incident.

A child plays with a ragged doll at the Nasaji Bagrami camp for internally displaced Afghans in Kabul. i i
David Gilkey/NPR
A child plays with a ragged doll at the Nasaji Bagrami camp for internally displaced Afghans in Kabul.
David Gilkey/NPR

She's surrounded by several unwashed grandchildren in tattered clothes. One has two large scars on his head. He was hit by a car while doing what many children here do: working in the streets to earn money for the family to buy food.

A little girl runs away from her brother while playing outside of the family's home in the Nasaji Bagrami camp for internally displaced Afghans in Kabul. i i
David Gilkey/NPR
A little girl runs away from her brother while playing outside of the family's home in the Nasaji Bagrami camp for internally displaced Afghans in Kabul.
David Gilkey/NPR

On some days, her grandchildren attend a school in the camp established by an NGO, but the teachers show up irregularly. At least the children are usually able to get food there, she says.

Mohammed Ibrahim is the camp elder at the Nasaji Bagrami camp for internally displaced Afghans in Kabul. i i
David Gilkey/NPR
Mohammed Ibrahim is the camp elder at the Nasaji Bagrami camp for internally displaced Afghans in Kabul.
David Gilkey/NPR

Mohammed Ibrahim is the camp elder and one of the original settlers here. He says he fled Helmand province almost five years ago along with about 80 other families. He says it's still too dangerous to return home.

Mohammed Ibrahim is the camp elder at the Nasaji Bagrami camp. i i
David Gilkey/NPR
Mohammed Ibrahim is the camp elder at the Nasaji Bagrami camp.
David Gilkey/NPR

"A few families recently returned to Helmand, and they were killed," says Ibrahim.

The camp has no electricity, sewage system or running water. Several times a day, 50-year-old Rosadin, who lives nearby, tows a small water tank into the camp with his tractor.

Rosadin, who lives nearby, tows a small water tank into the camp with his tractor. He fills dirty plastic jugs. Residents pay about 50 cents for about 5 gallons of water. i i
David Gilkey/NPR
Rosadin, who lives nearby, tows a small water tank into the camp with his tractor. He fills dirty plastic jugs. Residents pay about 50 cents for about 5 gallons of water.
David Gilkey/NPR

He fills dirty plastic jugs from his tank. Residents pay about 50 cents for 20 liters of water.

"I feel sad when I come here," Rosadin says. "I feel that they have no alternative than to live in these harsh conditions."

Ibrahim says most of the people living in these conditions would prefer to die.

"It's a terrible life, and it's an honor to die to leave this kind of life," he says.

Children gather outside of their mud walled home in the Nasaji Bagrami camp for internally displaced Afghans in Kabul. i i
David Gilkey/NPR
Children gather outside of their mud walled home in the Nasaji Bagrami camp for internally displaced Afghans in Kabul.
David Gilkey/NPR

This is just one of more than 50 such camps across Kabul alone where tens of thousands of people live in similar harsh conditions.

Mahir Hoda Sabar, the director of Internally Displaced Persons in the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, says the number of displaced Afghans has increased by about 100,000 over the past year.

A fighting quail sits in its cage on the plastic roof of a refugee tent in the Nasaji Bagrami camp. i i
David Gilkey/NPR
A fighting quail sits in its cage on the plastic roof of a refugee tent in the Nasaji Bagrami camp.
David Gilkey/NPR

Sabar says the government isn't having much luck in resettling the displaced in peaceful communities because residents don't want Afghans from other provinces moving into their villages and competing for limited jobs and resources.

Martin Cottingham, the media and advocacy manager for Islamic Relief, first visited this camp last fall.

"The only things that have changed for the better are not down to anything that the authorities have done," says Cottingham. "It's because we're here on a sunny day, and it's a little less cold than it was when I was last here."

As a result, he says, there are fewer people here who are shivering and hungry today.

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