Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Between the Taleban and NATO

Refugees from the fighting in Sangin gather in the provincial capital.
As the fighting gets worse in rural Helmand, refugees have been coming in to the city of Lashkar Gah. No one knows exactly how many have arrived, but they live in terrible conditions and receive little assistance. A few months ago, 15 families from the Sangin district arrived in the village of Mokhtar, where our reporter Allaludin Sultani lives.

Let’s follow Sultani as he visits his neighbours:

I am entering the house of Sadar Mohammad, a refugee from Sangin. When I walk in, I feel like I’m in a graveyard. There are none of the comforts of home. The house they live in a ruin with just half a ceiling.

Inside the house, it’s silent. Along the ruined walls, I see an old man lying on a patoo [thin blanket] with a bird perched on his hand and some children around him.

I ask one eight-year-old boy what his name is. “Mandak,” he says, adding that he came from Saran Qala and has been here for two months.

When I ask why the family is here, Mandak says, “Because of the fighting and ratatans [gunfire].” He says the fighting involved the Taleban and the Americans.

Sardar Mohammad, the man of the house, adds, “The Taleban and the British are cruel people. We don’t have domestic items or furniture. No stuff, no life. We didn’t bring our household goods. Our house was burned and looted. We can’t go there.

“We don’t know who to cry to or what to cry about. We don’t know who is killing us or who is saving us. We are stuck between these cruel people. Now everyone can see inside our house here, and see what we do and what we eat, how we lie and how we sit.”

When Sardar Mohammad’s family came from Sangin with nothing but their lives, they were given only a ruined house in Mokhtar. Only the women and children live here, while the male members of the family live in makeshift shelters of branches and leaves by the Helmand river.

“You see - this is my house and my life. You’ve seen it,” says Sardar Mohammad. “We have nothing to cook on, no place to sit down, and no place to lie. We use the water from the river. We just breathe, and wait for a bomb. We think we’ll be bombed here as well. We’re tired of life. We are waiting for death.”

I went to the Afghan Red Crescent Society and saw many women holding welfare applications in their hands. They were not getting the assistance they needed.

One woman who didn’t want to be named was complaining about the office.

“The trucks are full of foodstuffs, but we don’t receive any of these goods,” she said. “I have this welfare application in my hand and I’ve come here, but I haven’t received anything.

Gholam Mohammad, head of the Red Crescent Society of Helmand province, agrees that refugees aren’t being helped enough. “We have helped them but not enough, because we haven’t received any assistance from the capital [Kabul] that we could give them, because the road is unsafe and there are many security problems. They have pledged to help several hundred families but the problem is transportation.”

People say they are being bombed by NATO and are also bothered by the Taleban. Haji Zainullah, a resident of Sarwan Qala in Sangin, moved here with his 12 children and has been living in Mokhtar for the last two months.

“We can’t tell either the coalition forces or the Taleban not to operate in the area,” he says. “The houses are ours. We are harmed and killed.”

There are many parts of Helmand like this, where reporters have already grown tired of gathering news about such cases.

Every day, crowds of women and children holding welfare applications in their hands stand at the doors of the governor’s house, the Red Crescent and other organisations, asking for help.

Allaludin Sultani, for IWPR in Helmand.

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