Kabul’s Tent Dwellers Struggle to Survive

TEXT: Roald Høvring    PHOTO: Enayattullah Azad – Norwegian Refugee Council*

22 January 2019  —  With snow and freezing temperatures, displaced families living in makeshift tents in Kabul are struggling to survive the harsh winter.

KABUL. Displaced children sweeping snow away from their makeshift tents in Kabul..

Akhtar has his hat pulled well over his ears and his scarf snugly around his neck. As other Afghan children delight in the first snowfall of winter, playing and making snowballs, Akhtar is on his way to work to collect scrap, he tells us.

“I don’t know my age”

“I usually collect Pepsi cans that I sell and paper we can burn for cooking and to keep our house warm,” he tells us.

COLLECTING SCRAP. Akhtar Mohammad, 13, fled the conflict in Kunduz province two and half years ago.


“How old are you,” we ask.

“I don’t know really,” he answers.

Later, we learn that he is thirteen.

“Together with my family I fled the conflict some two and half years ago from Kunduz province. I have five siblings. Now I’m working together with my father on the streets of Kabul collecting scraps”.

Many of the families in the settlement have been living as refugees for many years in Pakistan, before they returned.

Moving to the bigger cities

Since the beginning of 2015, around three million Afghan refugees living in Iran and Pakistan have returned to Afghanistan, often to a fragile and uncertain future, according to The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Seven out of ten Afghan refugees who return home are forced to flee again due to violence, according to a report published by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Samuel Hall. Many of them end up living in internal displacement.

More than 1.2 million internally displaced people across Afghanistan are now living in informal settlements, according to OCHA.

As many as two-thirds of all people displaced outside their home province are moving towards the five regional capitals of Kabul, Nangarhar, Kandahar, Balkh and Herat.

Read more in Humanitarian Needs Overview 2019 (OCHA).

CAN’T AFFORD GAS FOR COOKING. Fereshta (in blue) boils water by burning plastic and paper. The family can’t afford gas or firewood to prepare food.

Plastic shoes and no socks

“Thousands of displaced women, men and children do not have proper clothing or shelter. Our staff see children walking in the snow with plastic shoes and no socks. We need to provide these families with adequate shelters, heaters and blankets, and enough food stocks to keep them alive throughout this brutal winter,” says Christopher Nyamandi, country director for NRC in Afghanistan.

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THIRD WINTER. NRC’s shelter technical assistant Masooma Qambari, talks to Nazia, 11, as she takes care of her little sister, wrapped in a thick blanket, in one of the informal settlements in Kabul. It is the children’s their third winter in this settlement.

NRC helped 1,000 familes with shelter in 2018

Akhtar and his family spent last winter in makeshift tents. NRC has upgraded their shelter to fight against the freezing winter temperatures.

For many families in the settlement, this is their third winter trying to survive in makeshift shelters.

In 2018 alone NRC helped with shelter upgrades or durable shelter construction for 1,092 displaced and vulnerable households (about 7,600 people) in Kabul Province.

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SWEEPING SNOW. The children sweeping snow off around their makeshift tents in Kabul to stop them from sliding when it’s frozen. Agha Omar (12) in the middle with the shuffle.

In the scrap collecting business

12-years old Agha Omar is sweeping snow around his family’s makeshift tent. Because of the snow he can’t collect scrap.

“I was collecting scraps on the street and now the streets are blanketed with snowfall and we can’t find things. I have stayed back at home and I will go back on the streets when the snow is melted,” says Agha Omar.

None of the children on the picture (above) go to school. They are busy collecting plastics, papers and cans on the street.

UNCERTAIN FUTURE. Naqib, 13, fled Kunduz with his eleven siblings two and half years ago, when the city fell to the Taliban.

Uncertain future

Naqib and his family now live in a shelter that was built on a yard rented by NRC. However, neither Naqib or any of his siblings are attending school.

Naqib was in second class when his family was forced to return to Afghanistan. It’s been four years now that he has been missed out classes.

Instead of attending class, he drives through the city with his bicycle and collecting scraps to help with family’s financial situation.

“There is no hope and I don’t have any future if I continue living in this situation. I don’t know about my future. Maybe I will simply be a labourer.”

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