UN sees tripling of children killed in conflict in one year

MOYE MUBARAK, Afghanistan: Seven months after fleeing Pakistan for fear of deportation, Jan Mohammad spent Eid Al-Adha on Monday trying to feed his family, who still live in a tent in the Afghan border province of Nangarhar.

“We are spending Eid as if we were in prison,” the 30-year-old father of six told AFP.

“We have absolutely no money. We are still grateful to Allah that we are alive, but sometimes we also regret it. We can’t do anything. This year and this Eid we are completely bankrupt.”

He and his family left Pakistan late last year, shortly after Islamabad’s deadline for Afghans without residency in the country expired.

In the months since the November 1, 2023 deadline, hundreds of thousands of Afghans have hastily packed their bags to start a new life in their homeland, a place many of them have never seen before.

But months later, many still haven’t found their way.

Mohammad and his family lived with other recently returned Afghan families in a tent camp in the Moye Mubarak district of Nangarhar.

He worked as a coach at a sports club in Pakistan, but is now unemployed and unable to adequately support his family, let alone take part in the Eid Al-Adha traditions of buying new clothes or a sheep for the ritual sacrifice, or meeting with extended family and friends.

“My children do not have proper food, clothes (for Eid) or shoes, while children in the surrounding villages have good clothes and shoes. My children want the same. It is very difficult, but we are helpless,” Mohammad said.

“It breaks my heart, I sit at home in a corner and cry.”

Sang Bibi is also living by a thread in a tent nearby. While other families buy new clothes for the festival, she and her six children can hardly wash anything and have to beg for discarded clothes to wear.

“We even beg for the clothes of the dead,” the 60-year-old widow, the sole breadwinner of her family, told AFP.

“We have been in a terrible situation during the last two Eids,” she said, referring to Eid Al-Fitr, which fell this year in April at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

The influx of returnees from Pakistan and Iran to Afghanistan comes at a time when the war-torn country is struggling with economic, climatic and humanitarian crises.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR said last year that Afghans were the third largest group of displaced people in the world and that by 2023 there would be about eight million Afghans living in 103 countries.

The Taliban government, which took power nearly three years ago, provided some support to the returnees but struggled to cope with the influx of refugees.

“We want the government to help us by providing us with accommodation,” says Sana Gul, who has been living in a tent with her husband and two daughters since returning from Pakistan.

In the days leading up to Eid, markets were bustling with activity as shoppers bought sweets and food for the festival. Many families shared meat with poorer relatives during the holiday.

But having spent years, if not their entire lives, abroad while fleeing Afghanistan’s successive conflicts, many returnees have few support networks.

“We don’t even have bread to eat,” said Gul’s husband Safar.

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