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Pakistan: Weaving a lifeline in the dust of Basu

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Basu Camp, Pakistan - May 18, 2002: Afghan refugees in the bleak North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan are demonstrating how irrepressible is the human urge not only to survive but to prosper.
In recent months they moved into Basu camp under the shadow of the towering Tora Bora mountains, which separate their homeland from Pakistan. The camp is managed by the International Rescue Committee as part of its extensive program to serve Afghan refugees in Pakistan and to assist displaced people and returnees in Afghanistan.

Some of the refugees in Basu had fled the U.S. bombing in eastern Afghanistan that followed September 11. Taliban persecution forced others to take refuge years ago in squalid camps around Peshawar before they were able to move here.

Now some 7,000 have come together and, with the IRC's help, have settled into this giant tent city while they work out their future.

Most of the refugees are from Afghan's Hazara minority, descendants of Mongol tribesmen who descended on this region centuries ago. And although they are now destitute refugees, they have one treasure they can't lose-their skill at weaving fine carpets.

The lines of tents at Basu are dotted with square tarpaulins that shelter six-foot high looms from the glaring sun. The Basu area is hot and dusty at this time and the wind blows every day. But the family weavers, adults and children, are hard at work creating some of the most sought-after carpets in Asia.

Trucks bring dyed wool from Peshawar-seven hours' drive away-and carry back carpets for traders who take them to the markets of Karachi and Lahore. Other consignments will be packed for export.

Mild prosperity may beckon for the weavers, but the camp population at large still has enormous problems. They tell IRC workers they remain fearful of the conditions at home in Afghanistan, of the internecine battles and the chance of fresh persecution. Many still carry scars from the fighting.

Refugee repatriation from Pakistan is voluntary and these Hazaras say they have no inclination to move for at least several months yet.

In the meantime, they will continue to work here in the dust and the heat, weaving rugs to be centerpieces for the homes of the more fortunate around the world.

Additional information

Media relations:

Melissa Winkler (New York, HQ) (212) 551-0972
melissa@theirc.org

Kenneth Burslem (Afghanistan) 92-91-43574
kenb@irc-pk.org