Clinic struggling to cope with Afghanistan’s refugees

Clinic struggling to cope with Afghanistan’s refugees

By Fariba Nawa
November 5, 2001
Agence France Presse

Peshawar, Pakistan — Fatana Gailani’s small clinic is under siege, under-staffed and running out of resources almost as fast as its clientele of Afghan women refugees is growing.

Set up in 1986 to provide basic medical care, the free clinic in northwest Pakistan has in the past two months been forced to function as a full-fledged refugee centre.

Since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the number of women attending the clinic has doubled to 200 daily, and its services expanded from health checkups to providing food, housing and free schooling.

Despite the fact that the border is officially closed, UN refugee agency officials estimate that up to 130,000 Afghans have crossed into Pakistan in the past two months.

“We have bought 250 families flour, beans and oil. We enrolled a 12-year-old orphaned girl in school and rented out a room for her,” said Gailani, director of the Afghanistan Women Council (AWC) which runs the clinic.

The AWC runs the premier Aryana Afghan school in the city with 2,600 students who pay fees. Gailani said 50 of the newly-arrived refugee children were enrolled for free.

But like other aid workers here, Gailani said her organisation was being overwhelmed by the demand.

“We only have our emergency supply of medicine for the next month, then we’re out,” she said. In the dusty yard outside the clinic 30 women sat on the ground waiting, their all-enveloping burqas — the head-to-toe traditional garment worn by Afghan women in public — pulled up over their heads.

Among them was Mina, who two weeks ago saw the ceiling of her mud-brick hut near Kabul airport cave in as the result of a missile strike.

Mina, her husband and four of her children survived the blast but her eldest daughter, 22, was killed when a large chunk of brick fell on her as she slept.

“Please tell America to stop killing innocent people. If their goal is to get the Taliban and (Osama) bin Laden, they haven’t got any of them,” Mina said, rocking back and forth as she spoke.

Gailani caressed Mina’s face as she tried to calm her down.

“You should be grateful that you’re alive,” Gailani told the newly-arrived refugees in a soothing tone. “You should have hope … I’m with you and so is the world.”

After her daughter’s death, Mina and her children bribed smugglers to help them cross the Pakistan border.

Since arriving in Peshawar, they have been living with her cousin Ali Baba in his two-room apartment, crammed together with 12 members of his own family.

Outside Gailani’s clinic in the Afghan-dominated Peshawar suburb of Hayatabad, women pushed and shoved to get inside the examination room, ignoring the attempts of an exasperated staff member to keep them in line.

In the room, one of the clinic’s three women doctors examined 4-year-old Rozina, who had first-degree burns on her arms and body.

The child winced as the doctor touched her scars. Rozina’s mother wasn’t clear as to how her daughter had been burned, mumbling only that the war had “scarred” her entire family.

Another physician, Doctor Zarghoun said the new patients have a variety of illnesses including a virulent strain of malaria contracted in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad.

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