Sunday, July 19, 2009

A harbinger

One consequence of continuing to bomb a nation back into the stone age is you end up with a lot of displaced people. Many will remain internally displaced - that is they'll languish in refugee camps or merely drift with in the borders. Others (usually those with some remaining income at hand) will manage to flee in large numbers to what they hope will be a less hostile environment, where they will languish in makeshift encampments. Thus we have this story:

Recently, one Afghan journalist wrote: "there are three types of people in Afghanistan today: al-Qaida (the fighters), al-faida (the enriched) and al-gaida (the fucked)." For much of Afghanistan's middle class, if they didn't want to be in the latter category their only choice this last eight years and more was to flee the country. Poor people can't even afford to do that.

It's something there's been very little media attention given to, but refugees from the occupation of Afghanistan have become a major problem for some European nations. Last weekend, Greece sent in police and bulldozers to clear one camp in the western port city of Patras. It's inhabitants, up to 1,800 of them living in carboard shanties, had paid several thousand dollars each to people smugglers to leave Afghanistan and get that far.

Most of the immigrants arriving illegally in Greece do not plan to stay there. Most had hoped to get to Italy, with France and Britain being favored onward destinations. With the destruction of the Patras camp and tighter security against people-smuggling at the port there, more are now likely to head north for the land border with Bulgaria or Macedonia.

Currently Britain is one of the most favored destinations...Some 1,500 currently live in shanty camps around Calais much like the one at Patras. They wash their clothes and bathe in the sea, use their surroundings for toilets and eat at local soup kitchens. Knife fights between different ethnic groups are common.

Remember, these are Afghanistan's middle class, the educated and relatively well off that the U.S. led Coalition are hoping will do the heavy lifting of reconstruction, good governance, leading Afghan security forces and all the rest it will take to make the "hold" and "build" parts of "clear, hold and build" work. But they're not there, they have fled by their hundreds of thousands according to European counts. So how's that supposed to work, then?

The story of displacement and social death of those residing (or formerly residing) in Afghanistan (or the now more fashionable Af/Pak label) is one that has received very little attention so far.

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