The forgotten victims of Afghanistan

New hope for Afghans – thanks to IoS readers
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The Independent Online

The Independent on Sunday's Christmas appeal for the people of Afghanistan has been an outstanding success. Readers gave more than £40,000 for the Amar International Charitable Foundation's work with displaced Afghan families in Iran and south-western Afghanistan.

"The generosity of Independent on Sunday readers is wonderful," said Emma Nicholson, founder of the Amar charity, who is in Iran this weekend to check on progress. "I can assure them that we will make every penny count. Restoring basic living standards for the Afghan people is going to be a 10-year job, but this is a fantastic start."

Amar is helping some 13,000 Afghans in two camps in Afghanistan's Nimruz province near the border with Iran, as well as another 70,000 refugees who have crossed into Iran since the start of the present conflict. These are the forgotten victims of the war against terrorism. While millions of pounds have been pledged for Afghans who can be reached through Pakistan, Iran's international isolation has severely restricted the flow of aid.

What Baroness Nicholson discovered on her last visit to Afghanistan, however, was that people living around the camps are as deprived as those within them. Amar intends to raise living standards in the area as a whole: for example, it will rehabilitate an abandoned clinic in Zaranj, the capital of Nimruz province.

Lady Nicholson – the Liberal Democrat MEP for Winterbourne and a prominent campaigner for the Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq – founded the Amar charity 10 years ago this month. It is named after Amar Kanim, an Iraqi boy who lost his family and suffered terrible injuries when Saddam Hussein's forces bombed his home. After Iranian surgeons saved his life, he was brought to Britain for further treatment. At 20 he has undergone 26 operations, but still needs more.

The Amar foundation cares for some 92,000 Iraqi refugees in Iran. It prints 40,000 schoolbooks a year in the Persian language and will use these to teach basic literacy, starting with Afghan women. Female illiteracy in rural Afghanistan runs close to 100 per cent.

"Afghanistan has suffered 25 years of conflict, during which every social structure has crumbled," said Lady Nicholson. "Our focus will be on much-needed primary health, nutrition and education – as well as ensuring a clean water supply, the lack of which is the main reason why Afghanistan has the highest infant mortality rate in the world.

"All our programmes are tried, tested and low-cost. We have 10 years of experience in Iran with refugees from Iraq, and in that time we have raised their health standards to those of the surrounding Iranian population, which according to the World Health Organisation are comparable to those of Western Europe."

Now the charity is bringing its expertise to bear on Iran's latest refugee crisis. "Thanks to your readers, the foundation stone has been laid," said Lady Nicholson.

Donations can still be made to the Amar International Charitable Foundation, 2 Vincent Street, London SW1P 4LD. Telephone: 020-7828 4991.