TAQI NAQI: Taqi Naqi township emerges bleak and
barren from the dust of western Afghanistan, an apparent ghost town of derelict mud houses.
The government built it for homeless refugees returning to Herat province from Iran
after US-led troops ousted the Taliban regime in late 2001, but no one wants to live here, away from arable farmland and big cities.
Behind some of the doors, however, there
is life — albeit one eked out with the help of foreign aid and dreams of a better future.
Inside 38-year-old Mina Yousif's house,
the family of tailors
prepares clothing for a wedding. Tapestries of Afghanistan's legendary anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud bring colour to the dirt walls.
"We did not want
to come back to Afghanistan because here there are no facilities, there is no power," Yousif said, adding they felt pressured to return
in 2004 by Iranian
authorities after nearly
20 years as refugees.
"But in Iran we had many facilities, we
were very comfortable." Her neighbour Zulaikha, who has one name
only, is also disparaging of her new home:
"We have nothing,
they have to help us. There is no transport to go to the cities, there
are no vehicles." About eight million Afghans
fled or were forced
from their homes by decades of civil war and the subsequent 1996-2001 Taliban government, which transformed Afghanistan into a draconian Islamist state.
Between 2002 and 2008, about five million Afghans returned home with dreams of peace and prosperity, the United Nations says.
"When we talk about five million repatriated, we are talking about
an estimated 20 percent of the total population
of the country," said
Mohammad Nadir Farhad, spokesman in Kabul for UN refugee agency UNHCR.