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Wednesday, 5 September, 2001, 00:07 GMT 01:07 UK
Afghans' camps without hope
Afghan refugees in Jalozai tent
The refugees live in squalid conditions in tents
By John Simpson in Jalozai refugee camp, Pakistan

It is estimated that around two million people have fled from Afghanistan in the past 20 years.

For many the first stop is one of the refugee camps over the border in Pakistan.

Afghan child in Jalozai camp
Skin infections are rife
Jalozai is one such camp where 80,000 people live in squalid conditions.

It is a dreadful place where there is no shelter from the searing heat except in flimsy tents, no water available, except what is brought in tankers - it is basically just desert.

In recent weeks temperatures have been soaring to around 50C and through the heat of the day the camp is quiet as people try to take shelter from the sun.

Skin disease is rampant and the camp is bursting at the seams with more recent arrivals - Afghans who have come to escape a range of disasters, from the current drought in their homeland to the ferocity of the Taleban who rule it.

Desperate to escape

After coping for 20 years with a couple of million refugees, Pakistan feels it cannot deal with any more.

Recently some refugees have even been sent back, so it is not just that there is no comfort in the camp, there is no guarantee of security either.

Afghan refugee
This man's brother was on board the Tampa

It is absolutely no wonder that people are desperate to escape from the camp.

Around 50 people a week scrape together the money to have themselves smuggled out to Britain, Germany, Canada and of course more recently to Australia.

No fewer than six of the people on the Norwegian freighter Tampa, that was languishing off the shores of Christmas Island with over 400 refugees on board, came from this very camp.

The brother of one of those refugees told me that he had had to pay the equivalent of 4,500 ($6,500) for the trip - a lot of money for people in these circumstances.

Smuggler's fee

There are people near the camp who specialise in getting the refugees out. Calling themselves travel agents rather than people smugglers, for a fee they will help you travel to a new country.

Afghan refugees playing cricket
Cricket has become an obsession in the camp

At 4,500 Australia is the cheapest destination because it is the easiest to get to. Germany costs 7,500 and to Britain, where most of them would like to go, it is 10,000.

It is estimated that 80% reach their target.

Jalozai camp is a place without hope and without much dignity. None of the people in it feel that they have much to thank Pakistan's authorities for - except perhaps for teaching them cricket.

Each evening as the heat of the day starts to relent they gather to play.

It has become an Afghan obsession, a way to pass the time until they can either escape or get looked after decently. It is likely to be a long wait.

The BBC's John Simpson
"It is absolutely no wonder why people are desperate to escape"
See also:

01 Sep 01 | South Asia
Pakistan halts deportations
31 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia's migrant policy under fire
04 Sep 01 | South Asia
Tampa case highlights Afghan crisis
20 Sep 00 | South Asia
Afghans suffer in desert camps
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