Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Slums AKA IDP Camps of Kabul

This morning we asked to see a slum in Kabul. We were taken to a camp for IDPs from Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. I am repeatedly seeing that the line between "slum" and "refugee camp" is pretty blurry. 

The camp was crowded and dilapidated. It looked like a mass of cloth tents from the top, and within were streams of what was probably more sewage than water. We were told the camp had been there for about two years.

A woman took us into our home. She said that people had come to Kabul because of bombing in Helmand, indicating that they fell from the sky-- airstrikes. She drew her hand across her arms and legs, indicating the people who lost limbs. It must have looked like this, it looks like exactly the same camp.

The woman tried to show us around. She pointed to one house, a girl was visible through the doorway, sitting with her head down on her knees, holding herself tightly and rockin
g. "Sick, sick," the woman said. When the girl looked up, we noticed tears in her eyes. She put her headdown again, in apparent agony. The woman said they did not have money to send her to hospital. Next door, the girl's newborn baby was sleeping. The girl was too sick to feed the baby. 

We insisted the girl be taken to the hospital immediately and gave them some money, but I was shocked. Once again, my assumptions had failed me. UNHCR logos were visible-- were they not providing or attending to the healthcare needs of IDPs from southern Afghanistan? Between the UN, U.S., Europeans, etc. etc. etc., was no one looking out for one of the most desperate, and potentially dangerous, populations in Kabul?

There were only three small tent schools in the camp, run by a local Afghan NGO. They were full of little boys and girls, only a small fraction of the kids in the camp. Most families would not send their girls to school. But that is even more of a reason to build schools and work with the IDP population. Isn't that why we got rid of the Taliban, and isn't secular education one of the most effective forms of resistance to its resurgence?

We left the camp, deciding it was best not to linger. But I left with several themes reinforced in my mind. Through Lebanon, where I had spent time researching U.S. (nonexistent) policy towards Palestinian camps, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, I was seeing that refugee camps are actually slums, they are the source of incredible violence, radicalization, and human misery, and are consistently and stunningly some of the most neglected spaces in our foreign policy and global security outlook.

1 comment:

  1. Nadia,

    I am a graduate student at risd currently working on a landscape architecture thesis on IDP camps in Kabul. I'd love to hear more about your experiences in Kabul and see if you have information that would be useful, which i assume would be.

    Michael Kim