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In Afghanistan, Lockdown Hits Waziristan Refugees Hard

Refugees from North Waziristan, northwest Pakistan, living in Khost, southeastern Afghanistan demanded on March 5 that the Pakistani government make arrangements for their return.

KHOST, Afghanistan -- Thousands of refugee families from Pakistan’s western Waziristan region sheltering in neighboring southeastern Afghanistan have been hit hard by the crisis spurred by the coronavirus pandemic.

While there is still no visible sign of an outbreak among the ethnic Pashtuns displaced by Pakistani military operations years ago, they have lost most aid and prospects of employment amid the coronavirus lockdown in the remote province of Paktika.

“We used to get some assistance [from international organizations and the Afghan government], but it has ceased with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic [this month],” Eida Khan, one of the displaced in Paktika, told Radio Mashaal. “In addition, all the markets in the regions have closed while we have been quarantined.”

Khan says the closure of all businesses has effectively shut their only employment opportunity as day laborers. “We have been badly affected and need urgent aid,” he said.

Zahidullah, another Waziristan refugee, says they have not received the meager food aid they used to get before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. “Recent rains have ruined our tents, and yet we are unable to leave this place because of quarantine,” he noted.

Zmaryalai Fazalyar, an Afghan official in charge of refugee affairs in Paktika, says they are trying to renew contracts and projects that previously delivered aid to displaced Waziristanis. “They have many needs and require urgent assistance,” he told Radio Mashaal.

The Afghan authorities say they had registered some 3,000 refugee families from Waziristan in Paktika’s Urugun, Birmal, and Laman areas. At least 2,800 of these were verified with biomatrices for easy aid distribution.

They are among more than 7,000 refugee families who sought shelter in Paktika and neighboring Khost provinces after fleeing a large-scale military operation in Pakistan’s North Waziristan district in June 2014.

Pakistani officials declared the operation Zarb-e Azb, as the offensive was officially called, a resounding success in routing Taliban and other militant groups from the mountainous region. But they have yet to facilitate the return of displaced Waziristanis from Afghanistan.

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Najibullah Alokhel’s reporting from Khost, Afghanistan.