Refugee mom: 'We came here to save our lives'

Afghanistan, December 17, 2001

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    Taghnesa and daughters, Gangena, 6 (left), and Fateema, 10, wait to receive medical treatment at Mercy Corps' BHU in Killi Kamalo. Photo: Scott Heidler/Mercy Corps Photo:

QUETTA, Pakistan - Taghnesa, 40, fled her village in the northern Afghanistan province of Kunduz nearly three months ago when the fighting between Northern Alliance troops and the Taliban escalated.

She joined a group of fellow villagers that decided leaving their home was necessary for the survival of their families.

“I left all things there and came here to save our lives,” she said sitting in the compound of the Mercy Corps Killi Kamalo basic health unit (BHU).

It took her family four days to travel to the Killi Kamalo refugee village across the Pakistani border near the southern city of Quetta.

Killi Kamalo, in the dusty foothills outside the city, is a refugee village that was established two decades ago during the then-Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Lined with mud houses and storefronts, the narrow dirt roads of the village were constructed with donkey carts in mind, not cars. It looks much more like Afghanistan than Pakistan.

Tanghesa’s husband died a year ago and now it’s just her, her husband’s other wife and four children, two of them hers – Ganagena, 6 and Fateema, 10. Like most of those who have recently fled the fighting in Afghanistan, Tanghesa is staying with relatives.

Just a few days ago the BHU distributed a one-time food ration of flour, cooking oil and beans to help alleviate the added financial strain the new refugees are putting on their hosts.

On the day of her interview, Tanghesa brought Ganagena and Fateema to the BHU for Tuberculosis vaccinations. Every month the BHU provides 500 children vaccinations to the approximately 100 “new” refugee families that have come to Killi Kamalo in the last three months.

Mercy Corps has four refugee village BHUs around Quetta that provide the Afghan refugee population with outpatient care, mother-child care, reproductive health, vaccinations, and medicine. If the patients require secondary care, they are referred to the Christian Hospital in Quetta city. Before the BHUs opened, there were no medical services in the villages.

The BHUs are run in partnership with local Pakistani non-governmental organizations dedicated to helping Afghan refugees. To make sure that the new refugees are aware of the BHU services, each unit deploys a group of community volunteers that educate the newcomers on the services provided and good hygiene practices.

The refugee population in Pakistan is still growing, but like many other refugees, Taghnesa is thinking about returning to her home in Afghanistan. But she’s not sure how soon it will happen.

“I don’t have anyone to take me back to Afghanistan. If I could go, I would,” she said.