Most of the assistance from UNHCR, such as blankets
and heating fuel, is linked to the onset of harsh winter conditions, but
the distribution of some additional food and other items is timed to
coincide with Ramazan, which ends with days of traditional celebrations
Abdul Ali, an Afghan refugee from Faryab province who
now lives with some 45,000 other refugees in Mohammad Kheil camp in
Balochistan province, was among the refugees assembled to receive items
like tea and rice that are not in food distributions in normal months.
"Ramazan is a very special time for all
Muslims," he said. "We fast all day and at the end look
forward to having a good meal... The people who have cared for us will
surely be blessed by Allah."
There are still more than 200,000 refugees in the
"new'' camps that were established after the September 11, 2001
attacks on the United States and the subsequent war against the Taliban
in Afghanistan triggered a fresh wave of Afghan refugees seeking shelter
These refugees, unlike the nearly one million other
refugees in Pakistan's camps who fled earlier fighting in Afghanistan,
receive a routine monthly food distribution through the UN World Food
Programme (WFP) that includes wheat flour, pulses, cooking oil and salt.
But in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), where
about 80,000 of the refugees live, dates, green tea and sugar cane candy
donated by Rotary International have been distributed in advance of Eid.
In NWFP and Balochistan, where the remainder of the
refugees are sheltered, there have also been distributions during
Ramazan of essential household items such as floor mats, plastic jerry
cans and sets of kitchen pots and pans.
"These new sets of kitchen utensils are going to
be a big help for my wife, who was fed up cooking with the old
ones," said Mir Mohammad, originally from the northern Afghan city
of Mazar-i-Sharif. The refugee, who is now in Dara-2, one of the camps
established outside Chaman on the border between Afghanistan and
Balochistan province, was also carrying plastic jerry cans that are
intended for storing water and cooking oil.
The distributions are made possible by occasional
donations by various organisations to UNHCR. Refugee heads of family,
after showing their registration papers to prove they are residents, go
one by one into the large tents where supplies are stored and receive an
allotment determined by their family size.
"We are involved in distributing the monthly WFP
ration to the Afghan refugees. The items other than the regular food are
most welcomed by the refugees," said Sami Ullah Khan of Global
Movement for Women and Children, a UNHCR implementing partner in the
Balochistan refugee camps, as refugees filed out of the storage tent.
"The winters in this area are very cold,"
said Hukum Khan, who fled with his family from the neighbouring Afghan
province of Kandahar and now lives in Dara-2. "UNHCR has promised
to provide us with coal, which we can use as fuel like we did last year.
We are happy with what we get in the camp but at times it is not
Because of problems with the quality of coal, UNHCR
was able to purchase last winter, the UN refugee agency is reverting to
the distribution of kerosene to the "new" camps in Balochistan
this winter. NWFP has already switched to kerosene, with the next
distribution — 15 litres per family per month — scheduled for the
beginning of December.
More than 7,000 new kerosene stoves purchased in Iran
for camps in NWFP will arrive in Pakistan soon. As distribution of
kerosene begins in the coming days, refugees will receive training to
minimise the danger of accidental fires — always a fear when many
refugees still live in tents.
Thousands of blankets and quilts — many provided by
donations from governments and other UN organisations — are also being
stockpiled for distribution before the end of this year. After two years
in the harsh climate along the Pakistan-Afghan border, UNHCR is
currently conducting a survey to see how many of the original tents need
to be replaced. The tents have been stockpiled and will be distributed
soon after Eid.
Last year, extreme winter temperatures, normally not
expected before January, struck in December and forced UNHCR into an
emergency procurement of quilts, blankets and other essentials. This
year, the UN refugee agency started the preparations while the camps
were still baking under the summer sun.