JALOZAI, Nowshera: Hamza rolled his beautiful eyes in sheer innocence as he cuddled to his father’s leg. He wore a sweater and a winter cap but his angelic face had turned rough due to biting cold. The little boy did not understand what his helpless father, Musafar Khan, was discussing.
“Hamza was born here at the camp and now he has turned three years old,” his father said, indicating years-long stay at Jalozai camp which was established to provide temporary shelter to people displaced by military operations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata.
“My other two children were also born in this camp,” said the father of eight, worrying that the tented village was turning into a permanent abode for them.
Hamza’s father might be missing his native village and the old peaceful days, but the adorable child had opened eyes in tent and played in the streets of this makeshift village. For him, this is the world he knows. No nostalgia!
Musafar was displaced from Bajaur Agency’s Charmang area by fighting in August 2008. Others returned but 1,340 individuals from Bajaur are still in the camp of 81,086 people. Data says that 311,540 IDPs are off-camp, mostly from Khyber Agency.
Musafar braved sweltering summers and chilly winters for five years in tents, yet he doesn’t see life as IDP coming to an end any soon. It depresses him and others that no-one in this country is concerned about their unending plight. He said fighting and subsequent displacement had ruined his life, even turned him old untimely. It drew laughter from people around him when the man with a long white beard said he was 40.
“This card will prove I have grown old prematurely,” he showed his national identity card. Unbelievably, Musafar who was pictured for the card in 2009 had black hair and moustache and was really 40 years old as indicated by his date of birth. “Life in this camp has turned my hair and beard grey,” he said in harsh voice.
Musafar has not been alone in the camp since 2008. A large number of people from Bajaur and the bordering Mohmand Agency have been cooped up in tents at Jalozai camp for five years. They did not expect they would live for so long in tents, and they do not want to live here for years more. But probably the choice is not theirs.
Ajab Khan has probably understood it. With mud mortar, he was erecting a wall of broken bricks to protect his tent from chilly wind and to prepare for a longer stay. The 23-year old young man said he had got married at the camp and had now a child.
“We are living here because we are extremely impoverished,” said Ajab who lives with 30 other family members. “My house in Loisam has been turned into a pile of rocks and now the government disallows us to reconstruct it,” he alleged.
Statements of other residents of Bajaur who were interviewed at the camp verified his claim. The security forces have stopped them from rebuilding houses and growing crops on their agriculture lands, they said. The IDPs said income means had been ruined as the security forces had destroyed businesses and barred locals from cultivating lands.
“I ran an electricity hardware store in Loisam bazaar but that has been flattened now. So, I have no business,” said Gul Badshah.
“There is no electricity. No water. No facilities. So, it’s pointless to go there,” he added.
Some families from Mohmand Agency could also not return in the last five years. The security situation in Mohmand is still unpredictable particularly in Safi, Khwezai and Baizai tehsils, said residents interviewed at the camp and in Mohmand Agency.
“Our house is undamaged but Qandaharo is still dangerous to live in,” said Farmanullah at the camp, though official data claim ‘all Mohmand Agency IDPs’ have been repatriated. He was a 7th grader when his family left Mohmand but now he is a college student with a light beard. His father’s general store was reduced to rubble in military operation, and now he works at a kiln.
The overstayed IDPs complain of being deprived of ration. The authorities have stopped giving them ration despite knowing that they have no or irregular jobs, according to uprooted people from Bajaur and Mohmand. “I used to work on my fields but have never laboured for a wage. Today, I have the only option to labour for money,” Ajab Khan said.
The displaced people said they have run up huge debts in order to meet expenditures. “The camp life deprived me of Rs50,000-60,000 savings and two tolas of gold. Now, I have borrowed Rs80,000,” said Musafar Khan, who said he has currently no job.