Human Rights Watch conducted the following interviews from November 18-22, 2001 in New Jalozai camp and in Kotkai camp in Bajaur Agency.
Lack of choice and insufficient information
SFJ is 45 years old. He comes from Jalalabad in Nangarhar province. He fled Afghanistan 30 days ago because of the U.S. bombing. He is planning to move to Kotkai camp with his wife and six children.
I am going to the new camp because the weather is cold in Jalozai and we are facing many problems. These days we had to borrow money even to get to Pakistan. I have to go there [to the new camp], I have no choice, what else can I do? We don't know what they will give us there, but we hope they will give us food. We are not sure, our safety depends on the people in the new place and we don't know what they are like. We haven't seen that new place. They have told us it is safe for us there, but we are worried. Those tribal people, they don't accept the words of the government. We are afraid of them because they do not listen. At first they told us that the new place is a desert and you can't leave your women and children there alone. We also know it is 8 kilometers from the border and maybe it is unsafe for us there. The people around us don't say good things about that place.
BJ is a widow with five children. She and her children fled the bombing and fighting in Kabul thirteen days ago. She says that bombs fell near her house and many people were killed and injured. Her brother-in-law died in Kabul when a bomb hit his house, and one of his daughters was injured in the head and her hand was broken.
I am going to the new camp because my children are very hungry and they have nothing to eat. I can't work, I have no choice, I must go. They told me that if I go there I will get a tent. The place I am living now is very cold, I have to go. I have no husband to go and ask questions for me. I have to decide to go alone. We haven't seen whether it is a good place. I want a safe place, I want my children to have a safe place. I don't know if it is close or far from the border. I am not sure if the Tajiks will go there. We think we may not be safe there. We will have to escape if it is not safe.
HJ is 38 years old. He is Pashtun from Kunduz. He fled from Kunduz about eighteen days ago because the fighting was near his home. He is planning to relocate to Kotkai with his wife, son and two daughters.
I decided to go to the camp because I am a poor person, and I cannot afford my life. I have to move to the new camp. I don't have my country, my life, my land. I have to move there, I am without my land. UNHCR told me that if I go to the new camp, I will get assistance. I cannot move anywhere else and so I have no choice. I don't know if we will be safe there, I haven't gone there and no-one has told me whether it will be safe for me or not. I am safe here in Jalozai, but they don't let us stay here. They don't want us to live here. If they would let me stay, I would stay. We are just like people with closed eyes. We reach out our hands and they take our hands, wherever they pull us, we go.
JJ is a widow in her thirties.
I fled from Parwan, outside of Kabul, about one month ago. I fled because of those bombs and fighting. They did not come near my house, but you cannot afford to live in a place like that. I do not have the strength of heart to be in a place like that and to listen to those bombs. A car of one of our relatives brought us here. I have decided to go because I have nothing to eat here. But I am afraid of any violence against us in that new place. I am an old woman and I need help. During this holy month of Ramadan, I am fasting. You know the place where we must sleep each night --- even if you are a dog --- you won't even want to stay there. I have decided to go with my two daughters and my son. We have nothing here, we have to go. Also, our people have gone there and they told us before they left that you can have a very good life there. The [UNHCR] workers came and asked for the women who have no men, and we know they took one woman before. They told her she would be safe there. We are happy about the assistance, we are just like a person with our eyes closed. We follow without seeing. But if that place is not safe for us, we will escape at night and come back here.
SJ was crouched near the loading buses in the screening center at New Jalozai when interviewed by Human Rights Watch.
I don't know where we are going. There are 7 of us in the family. Four of my children are here now - three daughters and one son. I have two more sons, they are at school right now. I want them to come with us, but I don't know if they will come in time. I do not know the place where they will take me. I only know the name but I have forgotten it. I don't want to leave without my sons. I have to take my family on my own, because I have no husband. I want my sons to come with me, but they will make me get on the bus without them. I didn't know we would go so soon, I thought there would be time for my sons to come.
SJ got on the bus without her sons about 30 minutes after the interview.
SB is from Tagab in Afghanistan. She is 26 years old. She was interviewed by Human Rights Watch after she had relocated to Kotkai camp, without her son ZB, who is 13 years old. She wanted her son to stay behind to finish his exams in the local school. However, it wasn't clear that he would be able to find his family in the new camp, located more than 5 hours from Peshawar.
I told the UNHCR staff that my son is at school. But they said, what can we do? We only count the people who are present. I wanted them to mark us down as a family of 7, so that if my son comes later he can live with us. They told us "we only write a list of the people who are present, we don't make a list of those who are not." They marked us down as a family of 6, which isn't correct.
AJ and ALJ, a married couple, showed up for the early-morning relocation with their ticket in hand. But they had seven people marked down for relocation, and only 6 people in the family turned up. They were told to come back when they had gathered all 7 of their relatives. The missing person was their son, KH who had psychological problems and was often running away from home or getting lost. ALJ had to look after him, as well as her husband, AJ, who was also suffering from confusion and psychological problems. They were waiting to be relocated with two dusty bundles of torn blankets. Their eldest daughter had a dusty plastic bag with three hard-boiled eggs in it. They had prepared the eggs for their journey. It was all the food they had.
I wanted to leave today. When I came yesterday to register my family to move, they told me I had to come back with my husband to register for the relocation. I had to find him because he wanders and he is not normal in his head. I brought him here today, and they took his fingerprint because they wouldn't accept mine yesterday. If my son was here we would be able to go and we wouldn't be lost and cold and hungry in this desert. But I have this son, these three daughters and one other son. They are hungry. I am confused about what we should do. I don't know if we will ever find my son. He can't speak properly. We don't know anything about that new place. Only God knows what it is. The workers [UNHCR] just told us it is good place where we can get food. But I know nothing about it. I don't know if it is a river or a mountain. They could just take us there and dump us into that river and that would be the end. They told us the name of that place, but I cannot even remember that name right now. I am afraid to go because I have these two single daughters (in their early teens). I don't know, there may be violence against women there. I am afraid, I don't know about safety. My daughters are single and my husband is old and not right in the head. He cannot do anything for us.
Later on the UNHCR worker wrote on their ticket that the son was lost and that they should try to find him. They were told that they would have to wait two days to depart. Human Rights Watch was able to locate ALJ three days later in Kotkai camp. She had found her son and the entire family was able to relocate to Kotkai together.
Insecurity in Kotkai camp
SHK (a woman) told Human Rights Watch:
We want a toilet near each tent. Last night there were men at the toilet and the police told us to go to the other toilet. It was very far away. The police told us that this is for men, for ladies you must walk far away. We cannot walk so far away. The police told us that the U.N. has only paid for the land the camp is on, so you aren't allowed to go outside of the camp area that has been rented. The police advised us not to go outside the camp.
RKK (a man) said:
We don't know about the people in Bajaur. We don't know what kind of people they are. We didn't know how far it was from Peshawar.
RJ (a woman) said,
People are afraid that the fighting may come over the mountain and we will all be killed here.