Tuesday 21 September 2010

Land speculators grab Afghan refugee camps

Afghan refugees in the devastated Azakhel camp

Thousands of Afghan refugees who have been living in camps in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa for the last 30 years are being forced to leave Pakistan following recent devastating floods as speculators make a grab for valuable land, according to reports.
The Azakhel camp, 40 kms from Peshawar and holding 23,000 Afghans, was devastated by the floods, but refugees who wanted to return and rebuild their shattered houses have been given two weeks to leave. Negotiations between the camp elders - who asked for a six-month deadline - and landowners and the government have broken down. Alternative sites were offered, but were turned down by the refugees, who said they had to recover their belongings buried under tons of rubble in the devastated houses.
Ali Anan Qamar, District Coordination Officer in Nowshera, said that he stopped the Afghan refugees from reconstruction of their destroyed mud houses after receiving applications from land owners requesting the district administration to refrain refugees from rebuilding their houses.
Around 70,000 Afghan refugees living in 13 camps - from a total of 1.7 million Afghans still living in Pakistan - were affected by the floods, according to the UN refugee agency. Twelve thousand homes were destroyed. Many families have not received any aid at all since the inundation.
The UNHCR said in August that speculators around Peshawar were pressurising refugees not to return to their camps so that they could develop the land, which has become valuable in recent years. At that time it said it had received assurances from federal authorities, including the Ministry of State and Frontier Regions and the Chief Commissioners for Afghan Refugees that all the refugees could return to their homes. Those promises now appear to be worthless.

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