Short of food and clothes, freezing cold and at the mercy of armed bands

The forgotten victims of Afghanistan: your chance to make a difference ...
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With the installation yesterday of an interim government and Western peace- keepers starting to arrive, life in Afghanistan might seem to be returning to normal. But as we look forward to exchanging presents and sitting down to Christmas dinner, millions of displaced Afghans remain cold, hungry and fearful.

With the installation yesterday of an interim government and Western peace- keepers starting to arrive, life in Afghanistan might seem to be returning to normal. But as we look forward to exchanging presents and sitting down to Christmas dinner, millions of displaced Afghans remain cold, hungry and fearful.

A month ago I met Wali Mohammed, a 25-year-old farmer who had fled with his wife and three children to the Makaki camp in south-western Afgh- anistan, a mile from the Iranian border. Three years of drought had left them destitute when the war against terrorism brought bloodshed to their area. "We escaped, leaving everything behind," he said, before adding grimly: "I have seen nothing good in my life."

In November Wali Mohammed and his family were among some 10,000 people living in Makaki and Mile 46, another camp close to Iran, with nothing but tents and blankets to shelter them against the searing days and bitter nights of winter in the desert. Gales spring up from nowhere in this arid, unrelieved flatness, enveloping everyone and everything in choking clouds of dust.

Outside the camps, however, hundreds more people were in an even worse state. Without enough tents to go round, they had built crude shelters of plastic and sacking while they sought to be registered for food, clothing and blankets. Among them was Gul Bibi, an 80-year-old widow who had to watch her seven-year-old nephew, Najib, shiver helplessly in the night-time cold without shoes or any warm clothing. To add to their misery, their group had been robbed of everything they possessed by an armed band they encountered during their long trek to the camp.

A month on, thanks to the generosity of readers of The Independent on Sunday, who have contributed more than £26,000 to our joint Christmas appeal with the Amar charitable foundation, conditions have improved slightly at Makaki and Mile 46. Gul Bibi and her family have been found tents, and food supplies have been stepped up for people like Wali Mohammed's children, who were living on little more than bread and tea when we met him. But Afgh- anistan remains unsafe and in ruins, and none of the occupants of the two camps is likely to be able to go home soon – instead, their population has swelled to about 11,500.

Apart from the people of Makaki and Mile 46, the Amar charity, founded in 1992 by Baroness Nicholson, MEP for Winterbourne, is helping some 70,000 Afghans who have fled into Iran since 11 September, swelling a refugee population which already totalled two million. Once the immediate need for food, shelter and medical treatment is met, Amar will set up programmes to deliver clean water, literacy and basic healthcare to Afghan refugees around the Iranian cities of Zahedan and Zabol as well as the inhabitants of south-western Afghanistan, who are as poor as those displaced from elsewhere in the country.

Amar is drawing on nearly a decade of experience in Iran with refugees who have fled from Iraq. Baroness Nicholson, a veteran campaigner for Iraq's Marsh Arabs, named her charity after Amar Kanim, orphaned when Saddam Hussein's regime bombed his home.

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