FRANCISCANS AND THE AFGHAN REFUGEES IN PAKISTAN
After the bombing of Afghanistan began, the Franciscans in Pakistan led us in a response of solidarity with the Afghanistan refugees. Friars Minor of the Province of Saint John the Baptist together with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary Province in Pakistan, and other members of the Franciscan Family along with their friends and benefactors throughout the world supported this effort. From the letters of Brother Sebastian Shaw, OFM, the Minister Provincial, we can construct a "diary of care." We share this with you who have joined us in this and other humanitarian projects by your interest, prayer and gifts.
A Diary of Care
On December 5, five friars went to Quetta, a city on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. During the following ten days with the Sisters from the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary Community there and some NGO's, they visited the refugee camps. "At that time our main concern was to provide the immediate necessities of food, blankets and medicine. We provided these things to more than 75 families," writes Brother Sebastian in a summary report of that visit.
Photo: Brothers Javed, Eric and Victor, OFM, with Sister Rita, FMM, welcome refugees from Afghanistan to Quetta in Pakistan. (December 2001)
The friars returned to celebrate their Christmas with the refugees. They felt "like helping Jesus who also had to become a refugee and flee to Egypt together with Mary, his Mother, and Joseph."
Brother Samson, the Vicar Provincial, with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, Salesian Fathers and other NGO's visited the camps and gave away food and medicine. They spent some time with the refugees and listened carefully to the accounts of their miserable situation.
On April 7 the Minister Provincial with two friars, and the Provincial Superior of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary with three Sisters went to Quetta. Br Sebastian writes: "We visited many refugee camps. We met families and inquired about their means of livelihood. Some are trying to settle in Pakistan. Some have private businesses, but there are many, maybe in the thousands, who are just at the mercy of the NGO's and other donors. They live in misery - not sufficient food, no medical facilities, no clean water to drink, no electricity, and no toilet rooms. Keeping in mind the difficulties Pakistan faces and also what the refugees go through, the Government is trying to send refugees back to their own country, Afghanistan."
On April 8 the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) opened the Voluntary Repatriation Center (VRC). in Quetta. The Friars and Sisters had a meeting with the representative of the UNHCR in Quetta. Again Br. Sebastian writes: "We went to the Office to inquire about what we should do. They said that every day more than 50 families would go back to Afghanistan voluntarily. They suggested that we provide food for these families. We promised to provide food for these families for a week.".
Photo: Afghan Refugees ready to go back to their Country. They are receiving food packets for their journey from the Franciscan Friars and the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary Sisters.
"This we did. We were very happy to help them. The UNHCR Staff was very helpful and cooperative. It involved sacrifice and hard labour. Each day we had to prepare 50 bags of food. This we did in the evening before and the next morning we went to the VRC at Baleli, 15 km outside Quetta. We handed a bag of food to the head of each family. It was very pleasant to see the joy and excitement of the refugees who were going back to their motherland. Children and young people were singing in their own language. I was thinking of Afghanistan. At this moment there are no houses. Cities are destroyed. There is no security of life. But still refugees are happy to go back to their land."
After six months of care extended to the Afghan refugees the Franciscan Family of Pakistan used the month of May for future planning.
Dr. Ruth Pfau, a member of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, directs an institute called Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre in Karachi. The institute conducted a survey of refugees in Karachi. Sharing the results of the survey, Dr. Pfau said that there are nearly 18,000 refugee families in the city. Many have nothing. Within the families there are sick members - some with tuberculosis. Yet they want to return to Afghanistan.
Br. Sebastian, the Minister Provincial, and his Vicar, Br. Samson, met with Dr. Pfau to discuss the situation and ways to help. The reaction of the Franciscans can be expressed in a few words: "I hope we shall provide them with whatever is required."
The plight of the refugees is due in no small measure to war, political tension and social problems. The Franciscan Family, while aiding the suffering, looks beyond to lasting solutions. Friars and Sisters with the broader community reflect on the meaning of peace and the way of reconciliation. Five thousand copies of the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis with its universal message and appeal have been distributed in various local languages
July - August 2002
Following the discussions with the UNHCR in Karachi, the Franciscans began to assist those going back to Afghanistan from Karachi, as they had been dong in Baleli and Quetta. Brother Sebastian describes the trip as follows: "The refugees set out from Karachi and proceed to Peshawar - a journey of 36 to 38 hours. During the trip they have neither food nor drinking water. Each day we provide food packets consisting of bread, dry milk and sweets for 200 to 300 families consisting of 5 to 7 members. The cost for the food packets is US$ 434 per day."
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
TO: The Very Reverend Sebastian Shaw OFM,
Provincial Superior of the Franciscan Friars in Pakistan
It is with great joy that I have been informed the Franciscan Friars headed by yourself have begun the distribution
of food packets to the returning Afghan Refugees with
transportation assistance of our implementing NGO
partner SHARP, Karachi.
This is in line with our discussions on the subject during
your recent visit to our offices last week. Every little bit
of assistance these needy refugees can obtain on their
long and arduous journey back to their homes will be of
great benefit to them, and as well just might save the
lives of some very young children.
Sincerely yours (signed) William Skataka
Officer in Charge UNHCR - Karachi
Photo (Left to right) Br. Saleem, OFM, Sr. Alice FMM. Sr. Martina, FMM (Provincial) Officer in Charge UNHCR, Br. Javed, OFM, and Br. Sebastian, OFM (Provincial) at the UNHCR Office.
September - October 2002
Assistance continues. Brother Sebastian wrote that in October the repatriation process was suspended because it is already winter in Afghanistan. The UNHCR is evaluating the policy and methodology. The Franciscans have a close contact with the Office in Charge in Karachi and are meeting with him on ways and means to assist the refugees at this time.
Gifts received and shared
During the first semester of this outreach, the organization phase, the Franciscans in Pakistan spent US$ 21,159.85 in aiding the refugees from Afghanistan.
||Visits to the camps, distribution of food, blankets, clothes
||Food packets for 7300 refugees returning to Afghanistan
||Sewing machines for three families for employment
||Printing of "Peace Prayer of Saint Francis"
The alms for this special outreach received at the General Curia in Rome are held in a fund restricted for "The Afghan Refugees in Pakistan." Money is transferred when and as directed by the Minister Provincial or Superior of the Province of Saint John the Baptist in Pakistan. Br. Sebastian concluded his latest letter with the words: "Thanks for your concern and the love the donors showed to the refugees. I assure the donors that their money is being used for the right purposes and intentions. With prayers and love."
Concerned at the situation of so many people, who are forced to abandon their own lands, particularly the migrant workers, the REFUGEES, the ethnic minorities, the friars seek to create a network of personnel and resources to intervene in the plight of the refugees. (1997 OFM General Chapter Document From Memory to Prophecy) The Franciscans are grateful for the generous assistance given in this ministry of solidarity. If you wish to continue your financial support of this outreach, here are the
Ways to Send Your Contribution
CHECK (US$ or EURO) payable to Ufficio per lo Sviluppo and sent, with an indication of its purpose "Afghan Refugees" to the Development Office of the General Curia in Rome at the address below.
Bank transfer to Istituto per le Opere di Religione (IOR) 00120 Cittą del Vaticano in EURO to account number 27505-005 or in US dollars to account number 27505-022. Swift IOPRVAVX - Motive "Afghan Refugees"
Bank transfer in Euro to Banca Intesa BCI, at Piazzale Gregorio VII, 10 , Rome to account number 102900/18; ABI 03069; CAB 05032, with the title Economato Generale. Motive "Afghan Refugees."
Perhaps you wish to enable the Minister General to assist other humanitarian outreaches undertaken by the OFM Friars. If so, give as the motive for an offering Social Concerns
ADDRESS: James Perluzzi, OFM
Ufficio per lo Sviluppo
Curia Generale dei Frati Minori
Via Santa Maria Mediatrice, 25 - 00165 Roma, Italia
Telephone 39 06 684 91390 - Fax 39 06 638 0292