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

Cave Dwellers Face Bleak Future

Refugee families forced to leave shelters close to the devastated Bamyan Buddhas are losing hope.
By Danesh Karokhail

When the authorities vowed to rebuild the world-famous Bamyan Buddhas, they evicted many hundreds of refugees who had made makeshift homes within the site’s cave complexes. Now these families have nowhere to go as winter approaches - and the restoration work still hasn’t begun.


In May of this year, local authorities moved around 600 cave dwellers to places such as Sang Chaspan - a village two miles from Bamyan - and other settlements in the Soor Ghul valley further afield, where they had to make do with crude tents and few facilities.


Mohammad Hussain, who is camping in Soor Ghul with his family, said, “There is no water in the desert where we live and it has become everybody’s job to fetch it from the faraway village of Talwara.”


One mother, who did not want to be named, told IWPR, “Our children are sick because of bad drinking water. They suffer from diarrhoea and pneumonia and there is no medicine for them.”


Mohammad Tahir Joya, Bamyan’s refugee affairs representative, claimed international organisations had reneged on promises to provide shelter, housing and sanitation for the refugees. “They are yet to offer any assistance although we have repeatedly asked them for help,” he said.


The relief agencies insist they will be cared for. Local UN aid official Peter Maxwell, who recently led a group of aid organisations to talk to the refugees in the Soor Ghul valley, said they agreed to stay provided they were given houses, electricity and running water.


Hazara, Tajik and Pashtun ethnic groups are all represented in the crude settlements, although Maxwell said it was not clear if the three factions are seeking to be housed together or separately.


While the resettlement debate has been rumbling on, a fresh set of refugee families have moved into the caves. Roomy, cool in summer and relatively sheltered, they compare favourably with other housing options in the area.


They were especially popular during the recent conflict as they provided protection from bombing – a key consideration during the reign of the student militia, who razed several Bamyan villages to the ground.


Other people from outlying districts come to the caves to escape drought and food shortages. They’re also attracted by the local clinics and schools – which are unknown in most of the province.


“These caves have become full again without the permission of the Bamyan authorities. We have not yet taken any action against the new people, but they will be removed before the restoration of the Buddhas begins,” said Joya.


This will only add to the burden facing the authorities and the international organisations, which will have to work fast to provide shelter and other facilities before the cold weather arrives.


“There is fighting in the Kahmard region, so I brought my family to these caves,” said Ali Hussain. “I thought we’d be safe but now they want to take me from here too. I do not know where we will go.”


Danesh Kerokhel is a Kabul-based freelance journalist