Thousands Of Afghan Refugees Being Uprooted In Karachi
KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) _ When the government raided and leveled hideouts of drug dealers and gunrunners this month, it used the opportunity to bulldoze the homes of thousands of Afghan refugees in the same district.
As a result, about 25,000 refugees, driven from their own country by war, are being moved again, this time from Karachi to isolated, barren tent camps outside the city.
The government did not say why the refugees were dislodged, but Pakistanis have complained the refugees put a strain on housing and other services in the cities. About 3 million Afghan refugees live in Pakistan.
The campaign began Dec. 12 when soldiers and police launched drug and arms raids in the crowded Sohrab Goth district which was controlled by Pathans but also home to thousands of Afghans.
The Pathans, angered by the raids, went on a rampage against Mohajir immigrants from India in a neighboring district who had called for the sweep. In a week of clashes, at least 166 people were killed and 667 wounded.
Government bulldozers leveled nearly half a square mile in the district, including the homes of many refugees. The action drew little attention amid the violence.
″We were taken out of our houses and our houses were bulldozed,″ said Fazal Khan, an Afghan refugee, as he stood outside a tent camp five miles north of Karachi.
The camp had about 50 tents, each about 12 feet by eight feet. At another camp, about a mile further north, 200 to 250 tents had been erected.
A rock-crushing plant spewed dust into the air near the larger camp and the newly erected blue canvas tents already were dirty. More shelters were being put up at both camps.
Mohammed Ali Gardezi, an official of Pakistan’s Afghan refugee program, said Saturday about 8,000 people were moved into the camps last week and the camps will eventually house all 25,000 Afghans who once lived in Karachi.
He said he knew of no other plans to raze homes of Afghan refugees.
Khan, 25, said many families lost valuables as houses were demolished and some were separated from relatives when hurriedly ordered into buses and driven to the desert.
Worse, he said, ″We have not been told what will happen to us.″
At both camps, refugees crowded around to tell their stories and to echo Khan’s complaint of uncertainty. Were rumors true they would be moved near the Afghan border? Would they be sent home?
″We will not go back,″ said Khan.
″Many of us have relatives fighting with the Mujahadeen against the Soviets,″ said Sayed Hasimuddin, 35.
The Soviet Union sent soldiers into Afghanistan seven years ago and still has an estimated 110,000 troops there supporting the Marxist government in Kabul in its fight against a national insurgency by Islamic guerrillas.
The refugees were vague about where they were from and when they came to Pakistan. When one man said he’d arrived only recently, others quickly told him to keep quiet.
Several insisted they’d arrived years ago, long before the Soviets’ 1979 military intervention in Aghanistan, as if a long stay somehow gave them the right to remain. Some men at the camp said they were Pakistani, but local reporters said their clothes and accents gave them away as Afghans.
Mauli Attaullah, 47, said some Afghans had spent $3,000 to $6,000 building homes in Sohrab Goth.
″We were never told anything by the government,″ he said. ″Suddenly our houses are gone. It’s a heavy loss.″
Hasimuddin complained that the refugees’ houses were searched even before those of Pakistani Pathans, who run the gun and drug trades.
Some say the Afghans are behind Karachi’s growing drug problem. Sources, however, say the drug racket is run by a Pathan criminal organization and that Afghans only work as runners or hold other low-level jobs.
Hasimuddin said no heroin or hashish was found in refugees’ homes. ″If we had those, we’d be in jail, not here,″ he said.
Rafik Ahmed, a government official, visited the camps last week to assess refugees’ needs. ″The government is going to provide,″ he said.
The camps are far from any town. Women have to lug water from tanker trucks to the dusty tents. Families picked through old clothes brought by a local relief group.
Khan said little food was coming to the camps. ″We don’t know when it will come again,″ he said.