Kashmiri Refugees On The Move Again
5 November 2005
Komsar Refugee Camp: Thousands of Kashmiris, turned into refugees by wars between Pakistan and India, are on the move again, forced to leave their camps by last month's earthquake. At the end of a dusty, rutted road obliterated by rockslides, survivors of the Komsar refugee camp are packing some furniture, a few goats and moving to shelter elsewhere. 'There's nothing here for us anymore, so we won't come back,' said Abdul Hamid, 24, as he helped hoist a sack of clothes into the back of a tiny pickup truck. 'We'll settle anywhere else in Pakistan that the government can arrange.' Kashmir is divided between Pakistan and India, but both claim all of it. The Himalayan region has been the cause of two of three wars between the nations since the subcontinent was partitioned upon independence from Britain in 1947. Tens of thousands of Kashmiris were relocated to camps such as Komsar amid fighting. Those refugees include about 28,000 from the Indian side of the border, where an insurgency by Islamic militants has claimed more than 66,000 lives since 1989. At least four other camps in the same area as Komsar were similarly destroyed by the quake, the refugees say. Hamid was just 9 when his family moved here from a river valley near the heavily militarized cease-fire line following skirmishes that made their villages and farms the targets of Indian artillery and machine-gun fire. Built hastily to house about 350 families, Komsar crumpled under the force of the 7.6-magnitude quake that struck the region Oct. 8. Lying just below what used to be a road, the shelter is not much more than sheets of tin roofs lying atop a heap of mud brick, rock walls and brittle wooden supports. A neighbor, who gave his name only as Shafqat, said he lost his father in the quake. Like many others, the man's body is still trapped under the debris, he said. He expressed little emotion about leaving his home of 15 years. 'We lived in more than 2,000 homes along the border and had farms and animals,' Shafqat said. 'After we came here, there was nothing to live on.' Like Komsar, the other refugees are located in remote areas in the Neelum Valley east of Muzaffarabad, the capital of the Pakistani part of Kashmir, and remain cut off by the quake's landslides. They may not see relief for some time. Army engineers still are working to clear roads in the area, nearly a month after the quake. For now, Hamid and his neighbors are on the move again, this time for a government-approved tent city in Muzaffarabad. 'My entire family was lost when our house slid down the side of that mountain,' said an elderly man named Mohi Bullah. 'Now I'm going to live in a tent with 20 other people.'