ISLAMABAD: Owing to the negligence of authorities concerned, Afghan refugees have taken over a children park in Islamabad and are living there after pitching tents.
F-6’s newly-renovated children park has become a makeshift campground for the Afghan refugees mostly belonging to the Hazara community, who fled their country following the takeover of Kabul by Taliban.
Initially, the refugees camped outside the National Press Club and later started living in the red zone near Parliament House. However, police and administration managed to remove them from the high security zone.
The refugees then again established their camps outside the press club. However, those belonging to the Hazara community set up their camps in the children park across the road. Nearly 700 Afghan refugees, most of them women and children, have been sheltering in the park for the last few weeks.
Protesters say they are helpless, cannot return to homeland; CDA to seek local admin, police’s help to get area vacated
“We are living in a public park but we are helpless and shelterless and have no idea where we should go?” said Surya Mosawai, a university graduate from Herat.
She said the refugees had been facing lots of difficulties but no one, including developed countries and other champions of human rights, were paying any heed to their issues.
“Do you think we are living in this park by choice. No. We don’t want to live here but we have no other option. We have been demanding the international community and developed countries, including the United State of America, to provide us citizenship as we can’t go back to our country because of the Taliban,” she said.
Another refugee, Bakar Ahmed, said: “The United Nations High Commission for Refugees should help us.”
He said if developed countries were not ready to accept them, Pakistan should give them asylum.
It may be noted that Pakistan has already been providing shelters to more than 1.3 million Afghan refugees for decades.
Najma Nowrozi, another refugee, said camped life was highly tough as refugees had to go to nearby mosques for using washrooms.
“Even, we are facing shortage of water,” she said and added that some well-off local people had provided them two plastic tanks for storing water. It is a blessing for us but the water is insufficient,” she said, adding: “We are helpless and hopeless.”
Some of the refugees said there was a public toilet near their camps but they had to pay to the operator of the toilet for using it. Similarly, they said, they had to pay to shopkeepers for charging their mobile phones.
The park was recently renovated and restored by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) by spending millions of rupees. However, due to negligence of the civic agency, the same has been taken over by the refugees.
“We are not against refugees, they are our brethren. But we are against setting up of camps in a public park. The CDA and police should remove them from the park,” said Liaquat Khan, a local. Another local resident, Shabbir Ali, said unregulated camps posed a security threat to the locals. He raised questions over the efficiency of the CDA which is the custodian of the public parks.
“These camps should be shifted to some other place as people of the area have been deprived of their right to visit the park as it has been taken over by the refugees,” he said.
When contacted, CDA’s Director General Environment Irfan Niazi told Dawn that he would take up the matter with the capital administration and police to get the park vacated.
He agreed that the park was recently renovated, adding soon it would be vacated for the public.
Published in Dawn, July 18th, 2022