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Correspondent Friday, 18 January, 2002, 15:23 GMT
The dispossessed
Refugee camp
A child stands in the middle of her new home, a refugee camp on the Afghan-Iran border.

We have had a great response from you. Many of you have requested contact details for Aid Agencies working with the Afghan refugees. You can also find out about the London Concert for Afghanistan at the Royal Albert Hall.

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On the morning of 9 November 2001, documentary film maker Taghi Amirani and his mainly Iranian crew gained rare access to Makaki, a refugee camp in Taleban-held territory. On 13 November, Kabul fell and the ripples of change in Afghanistan reached Makaki.

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The carpet bombing of Afghanistan was at its most intense and thousands of civilians were fleeing their homes. Taghi Amirani recounts his days in Makaki camp.

Entering Taleban territory

We cross the Afghan-Iran border in our driver's taxi, a yellow Peugeot - there is something odd about taking a yellow cab into Afghanistan.

We are heading towards Makaki, a refugee camp set up by the Iranian Red Crescent in Nimruz Province near the Afghan-Iran border and controlled by the Taleban.

Two kilometres from the border is the Makaki gatepost. It is a makeshift affair - a rope tied to two wooden poles stuck in the ground, 100s of miles of desert on either side.

It is here that I get my first glimpse of the Taleban. Two turbaned, bearded men with suspicious piercing eyes sticking their heads into the car through the half open windows.

They fix their gaze on each of us in turn. Hearing us speak Persian seems to reassure them.

Makaki under Taleban rule

Upon entry into the Makaki camp we are greeted by Abdol Rashid Bashardoost, the camp's Taleban commander. It is brief.

Abdol Rashid Bashardoost
Abdol Rashid Bashardoost, the Taleban commander of Makaki
He is calm and expressionless but displays a sharp awareness of things around him.

From the Taleban headquarters, a disused farmhouse on the edge of the camp, Bashardoost tells me of how he wanted to become a teacher before the Russian invasion 20 years ago. He defends the Taleban rule and says if the people who committed the 11 September atrocities were Muslims then they are now in paradise.

Bashardoost assigns Abdollah Pahlavani to us as our guide and minder in Makaki. He is here to help us with anything we need and is happy to give us a tour of the camp.

The Makaki tour

Pahlavani's tour is overwhelming.

About 120 families each day - roughly 500 to 600 people arrive in Makaki

Abdollah Pahlavani, guide
Sights of human misery I have never seen at first hand. One thousand tents shelter about 5500 refugees. They are the lucky ones.

The real tragedy is unfolding among the 1380 people scattered on the outskirts of the camp with no shelter. This is what Pahlavani wants us to see.

As he greets a new lot unloading their belongings from a truck I ask him: "How many new arrivals?"

He answers: "About 120 families each day - roughly 500 to 600 people."

Human cargo coming in the hope of getting food and shelter, but to be bitterly disappointed. The Red Crescent only have enough supplies for those officially registered in tents.

The people

At first we encounter huge crowds who circle us. Everyone has something to say. They all start by saying: "You must tell the world..."

They are incredibly well-informed and profoundly knowledgeable.

"Bin Laden is just an excuse. The Americans created him in the first place. This is not about terrorism. They are hitting the Afghan people. Hypocrisy. They think we don't understand. For how long are we to be battered from all sides?"

I meet Abdol Sattar Sharifi, a driver from Kabul whose wife and daughter have been killed in the bombing.

Nafisa Sharifi
Nafisa speaks out from underneath her burqa
His older burqa-covered daughter, Nafisa, is very outspoken about life under the Taleban.

"The people ruling this country don't know the first thing about government and governing," she says bravely within earshot of the Taleban.

Her father Abdol Sattar goes on to offer his view on the so called war against terrorism.

"If one American dies, the whole world hears about it. But Afghans are dying everyday and nobody pays any attention. Nobody asks who they are and how they are killed. Look at me; I've lost my wife and child and now live in dirt, and no one cares," Abdol Sattar said.

Hasan is waiting with the rest of his family in Makaki

I also meet Hasan, a 10-year-old boy whose father is a television director from Herat. Hasan sees their predicament from a child's perspective but no less astutely.

"A few planes have hit an American building and America has got upset. Innocent people have been killed. We didn't do it and I don't know which country did. Now, because the planes have hit its buildings and people have been destroyed, America has decided to go to war with the people of Afghanistan," Hasan said.

And that sums up the way the dispossessed people of Afghanistan see the war raging in their already battered land.

"Why us?"

A people brutally oppressed by the Taleban, now being bombed by the Americans in pursuit of a man they did not invite into their country.

The waiting game

On the radio we hear of the Northern Alliance making huge advances. Their latest gain is the city of Herat, just 320 kilometres north of Makaki. Many Taleban men are reported to have been killed.

To find out more accurate information about the progress of the Northern Alliance towards Makaki we return to Zabol across the border in Iran.

On Tuesday 13 November, Kabul falls and the Taleban escape.

We are told by the authorities that it is unsafe to re-enter Makaki as Northern Alliance soldiers are surrounding it.

The Migrant Swallows
The Migrant Swallows perform under the rising sun
While waiting in Iran, I have the chance to see The Migrant Swallows, an Afghan refugee band playing at the local cinema. They have been living in Iran for 20 years since the Russians invaded their country. I am so taken by their music I ask them to play for us. We film them at dawn in the desert.

Finally, we are told by the local authorities that Makaki is now safely in Northern Alliance hands.

So we follow a Medecins Sans Frontieres convoy to the camp.

The border guards say they have no idea what is happening inside Makaki. At the gatepost things are not reassuring - Taleban men we recognise are still there.

The situations is very confused and we do not enter.

After another day in limbo, we are determined to go into Makaki no matter who is in charge.

Politics: Afghan style

At the Makaki gatepost we meet the same Taleban men. Then to my surprise Mr Pahlavani, who greets me with a hug saying "We won!"

I am confused. I thought he was with the Taleban. How could he have won?

Pahlavani says he never really was a member of the Taleban
He proceeds to tell me he never really was a member of the Taleban and that when we were with him earlier he kept dropping hints about his loyalty to the people and the Mojahideen. I must have missed them all.

I ask about his Taleban commander Bashardoost.

"He's gone, but he's with us. We are all united!"

Apparently there was no fighting between the Northern Alliance and the Taleban.

"The real Taleban escaped," he tells me.

It turns out in the mayhem of political change-over the Red Crescent have moved the unregistered refugees to Mile 46 another camp 40 km south. Nafisa's and Hasan's families are among them.

The people's future

When we find them Nafisa has taken off her blue burqa.

Momentarily, Nafisa's beautiful smile is not hidden by her burqa
For a moment she lights up our camera with a beautiful smile before her father gives her a stern look.

"I think we're going to have to stay here for another year or so. The problems of Afghanistan are not the kind that can be solved in a couple of months."

That is how Ismail, Abdol Sattar's friend from Kabul sees their future.

Over a million Afghans were driven out of their homes by the bombing.

By the end of November 2001 the population of Makaki had grown to nearly 8000 people. Conservative estimates say 3500 civilians lost their lives. As the war against terrorism moves on to find other targets, I wonder about the fate of this battered old country.

I wonder about the kind of future children like Hasan can look forward to.

The Taleban are gone, foreign armies, long despised by Afghans are here to keep the peace, but Afghanistan's troubles are far from over.


Medecins sans Frontieres
8 rue Saint-Sabin
75544 Paris
cedex 11 FRANCE
Tel: +33 (0) 1 40 21 29 20
Fax: +33 (0)1 48 06 68 68

Action Against Hunger UK
1 Catton St
London WC1R 4AB
Tel: 020 7831 5858
Email for information:

Or you can access their website by clicking on their internet link on the right of this page.

You will find internet links for other aid agencies such as UN Refugee Agency and the Red Crescent Societies on the right of this page too.

Click here to return


Royal Albert Hall, London
Thursday 14 March 2002 at 1930

Organised in conjunction with CARE International, Medecins Sans Frontires (MSF), Ockenden International, Save the Children UK, and Islamic Relief, this unmissable musical event celebrates both classical and popular Afghan, Middle Eastern and South Asian musical expressions.

All proceeds from the event will be divided equally between the recipient charities for their indispensable work in Afghanistan.

Box Office: 020 7589 8212
Online bookings:

Click here to return

The dispossessed: Sunday 20th January 2002 at 1925 on BBC Two

Reporter/Director: Taghi Amirani
Producer: Borna Alikhani
Executive Producer: Roger James
Deputy Editor: Farah Durrani
Editor: Fiona Murch

The dispossessed
The dispossessed
Once well off they now sit and wait in Makaki
Recalls the bombing and the death of her mother and sister


Political uncertainty






See also:

17 Jan 02 | South Asia
15 Jan 02 | Talking Point
11 Jan 02 | Talking Point
03 Jan 02 | South Asia
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