“They said that if we are willing to fight and kill ourselves, then you must obey us,” Mr. Wali said, stroking his white beard. “They would kill us for being traitors if we ever tried to leave.”
He was still able to earn as much as $8 a day to support his family, he added, until the sporadic violence became intolerable. “Here there is no work for us, nothing.”
With the added worry of the oncoming winter, camp residents complain that assistance from the government and aid agencies has been slow to reach them. Food and clean drinking water are said to be in short supply. Aside from some tarpaulins, hurricane lamps and children´s clothes provided by the U.N. refugee agency, they have largely relied on the generosity of private donors and Kabulis living nearby to see them through.
On a recent afternoon at the start of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, a local man handed out oval-shaped loaves of bread and Iranian dates to a clutch of refugees gathered ahead of the evening call to prayer. Muslims break their fast each day at sundown.
Nader Farhad, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency in Kabul, said his organization was in the process of screening people to distinguish legitimate refugees from those who have joined the camp to receive free handouts.
There are further concerns that if arriving families are given more than the bare essentials, a temporary camp could become a permanent one they refuse to leave.
“This is not a long-term solution for them. … They need to go back to their places of origin soon for help to be sustainable,” Mr. Farhad said.
Since the Taliban government was ousted in late 2001, Afghanistan has faced a massive inflow of returning refugees displaced by previous wars.
Last year, Iran deported more than 360,000 Afghans, causing a humanitarian emergency in parts of the west. Another 100,000 followed between January and May of this year.
Pakistan had also planned to repatriate the 2.4 million Afghans still living in camps on its side of the border by the end of next year, but now says it may review its deadline in light of the strains already placed on Afghanistan´s cash-strapped government.
“We don´t have a special budget to help these people,” said Abdul Qadir Ahadi, the deputy Afghan minister of refugees and repatriation, referring to residents of the Kabul camp. “It´s a problem.”
Mr. Ahadi acknowledged that worsening security in parts of the southern provinces prohibits many families from returning in the near term, forcing them to find someplace safe within his country’s borders.
He said blankets, fuel and other provisions are being readied for distribution to help those displaced cope with the bitter winter months, when temperatures can drop below freezing.
Still, given the evolving security situation in the south, camp residents are divided on whether to stay or go.
“If we go home the bombs will probably kill us,” said Mr. Wali, the farmer. “If we stay here the cold might do the same.”