After witnessing a woman”s hands being cut off for her jewelry and bombs being placed in toys left for children to find later, refugee Nooria Popal said she was glad to have fled Afghanistan for America.
Popal and two other Afghan refugees joined humanitarian aid workers yesterday at the School of Social Work to participate in a panel discussion on the plight of civilians in Afghanistan.
Popal, Maroofa Ahmadi and Masooma Ahmadi were resettled in Michigan by Refugee Services of Catholic Social Services after escaping from Afghanistan. At the discussion, they described the brutality they saw in Afghanistan, including that carried out by the Taliban and the anti-Soviet Mujahideen guerrillas before them.
“The Taliban are not like normal people,” said Popal, who described her own experiences and translated for the other refugees. “They do things without reason. They open the door and they don”t see, this is a wife, this is a child. They shoot them.”
Her move to the United States has been a good experience, said Popal, who first fled to India in 1986. Her initial fear of being hated because of where she was born was replaced by gratitude for her neighbors” generosity.
“Some people bring for me blankets. Some people bring for me dishes. I say, “What is this? Why do they help me?,”” she said.
“I learn life here. I learn love here from American people. They are so beautiful, so nice,” she said.
The overthrow of the Taliban in recent months has not given her reason to go home, Popal said.
“With the new regime, a little bit is changed. But nobody is ready to go back to Afghanistan,” she said.
Another member of the panel, Patrice Page, is a United Nations liaison and program officer for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), an organization that administers medical aid in war-torn areas.
Page described the current refugee situation in Afghanistan and said standards of humane warfare established by the Geneva Convention have at times been overlooked by the U.S.-led coalition.
“In this war in Afghanistan, the political objectives were so important we almost saw a denial of the humanitarian issues,” he said.
The coalition has allowed Pakistan, Iran, and other neighboring countries of Afghanistan to close their borders, Page said, explaining that this violates the right of refugees to seek asylum.
“I never heard official statements from the U.S. or the U.K. condemning Pakistan for not keeping an open border,” he said.
In addition, Page took issue with the similarity in appearance between food drops and cluster bombs. Both are colored yellow, and Page said MSF has treated several children who approached cluster bombs hoping for food.
Page said the war has added to the problems caused by drought and famine.
“It”s not just since the 11th of September that Afghans have been trying to cope with a difficult situation,” he said.
Page added that the population is susceptible to outbreaks of disease, such as meningitis or cholera, because of malnutrition and lack of diversity in food dropped.
Disease and malnutrition are prominent in the photos of a Pakistani refugee camp featured in a new exhibit at the School of Social Work.
The photos were taken by refugees supplied with cameras by a University alum, Serena Chaudhry.
Chaudhry, who also moderated the discussion panel, spent last summer helping refugees in Pakistan on an internship with the International Catholic Migration Commission.
The photo exhibit will be on display through Jan. 31.