Tale of Survival: Hazara Weavers Who Outlasted the Taliban Now Struggle as Refugees in Pakistan
Of the eight tribes that make up Afghanistan's people, the minority Hazaras have had it especially tough.
Their distinctive Asian features have made them an easy target, especially for the Taliban, who set out to ethnically cleanse their tribal areas. Hazaras are not only an ethnic minority; they also belong to a minority Shia sect.
Three years of drought capped their misery.
Thousands joined the ranks of the "invisibles"-refugees who entered Pakistan illegally and settled with host families in urban areas of Peshawar.
Despite their problems, the Hazaras had one positive-their traditional skill at weaving. Hazara rugs and carpets are renowned in a region of world-famous carpet makers.
Hundreds of families brought their small businesses with them across the border and set up in urban Peshawar, Pakistan. The women and children would weave; the men would do the heavy work and the trading.
A few became rich. But most worked and lived in tiny overcrowded rooms shared with up to four other families. Their income was sparse, hardly enough to pay for rent, utilities and food.
Then came September 11 and the fortunes of the Hazaras plunged even farther.
World rage at the New York attacks closed off foreign markets. Buyers became harsher; often three or four months' work would be rejected. Prices plummeted or demand dried up altogether. Many Hazara families lost their only income source.
When the International Rescue Committee investigated the plight of the Hazaras, it had difficulty gauging the situation.
"The Hazaras' problems were having a domino effect," said Djin Tjik Heng, Pakistan field coordinator for the IRC. "As the weavers lost their income, so their host families began to suffer too."
An IRC survey in the Hazara neighborhoods verified how vulnerable the families were. It found food deficiency, unsanitary conditions, anemia, asthma and TB among women and children. The IRC organized emergency food distribution.
"It was tricky," said Ms.Heng. "The families were in an area already poor and had to be identified. Security in these unsettled neighborhoods was a possible threat to workers too."
The IRC prepared relief packages for 750 families-wheat, beans, cooking oil, sugar and quilts-sufficient to help a family through the winter.
"We used local aid groups to help spread the news to the families and distribute the food," said Ms. Heng. "They got word to each family when it would be ready for collection at a local mosque. It had to be handled delicately."
Soon many Hazara families will move to the IRC-prepared Basu refugee camp in the Northwest Frontier Province and be sustained until repatriation efforts are in place to return them to Afghanistan.
Their survival ensured, the Hazaras can now work to revive their world famous industry.
Kenneth Burslem, Information Officer
Phone: 92-91-43574 or eMail: email@example.com