"We have no firewood to even make tea," Qandi Gul, a 40-year-old widow standing in front of her tent with her three bare-foot children told IRIN at the Chaman Huzuri IDP camp in Kabul. All her children had coughs, she said, warning that many children would die in the camp if it snowed. "We are in dire need of clothes, blankets and carpets," she said, pointing out that the floor of the tent was too damp to sleep on.
Chaman Huzuri, is one 10 IDP camps established in the city over the past eight months and, according to Mohammad Halim, an inhabitant of the camp, the number of displaced families arriving there has been rising; housing has become a critical issue for most Kabul residents.
"I came to the camp five months ago," Abdul Sameh told IRIN, because he could no longer afford the rent of his previous home. The former civil servant, who arrived from Pakistan last year, said lack of employment opportunities had pushed him into this state of misery.
Originally from Parvan Province north of Kabul, Abdul Sameh's home had been burnt to the ground during fierce fighting between Taliban and Northern Alliance forces in 1998. The father-of-seven said many camp residents - particularly women and children - were suffering from rheumatism and cold.
Asked what their main problem areas were within the camps, most families interviewed by IRIN pointed to a severe lack of winter clothing, fuel, drinking water and access to health care.
"There has been very little assistance from aid agencies," Halim said, noting that whatever help had arrived had been very irregular. "We have not received any regular assistance so far."
Like many residents, Halim complained that the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had neglected them, an accusation the agency denied to IRIN on 23 January.
While recognising that conditions within the camp were adverse and unsuited to coping with winter conditions, a UNHCR spokeswoman, Maki Shinohara, told IRIN that UNHCR was working with a number of agencies in the provision of assistance to help affected families get through the winter.
She emphasised, however, that UNHCR wanted these people to return to their places of origin. "Once we start giving out a lot of aid, it will undermine the whole purpose," she said, adding that some people in the camps were trying to seem more visible to attract attention for assistance. She reaffirmed that UNHCR's strategy was to try and focus assistance on rural communities where possible, with a view to curbing the flow of IDPs into the city.
Shinohara noted that over the past year Kabul Province alone had seen an influx of some 650,000 returnees - the vast majority from neighbouring Pakistan.
Meanwhile, Zubair Omari, a programme officer for the UK-based NGO, Islamic Relief-UK (IRUK), told IRIN the 4,000 or so people inhabiting the 10 camps in Kabul were in urgent need of non-food related items such as clothing and heating facilities. "Their condition is worsening as the weather gets colder," Omari asserted, adding that IRUK had begun distributing winter clothing to the families last week.
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