Canadian delegation meets IOK refugees

Muzaffarabad, December 11 (KMS): They have lost their loved ones and their homes. They are the women from Indian occupied Kashmir (IOK) currently housed at the makeshift Ambore refugee camp in Muzaffarabad, capital of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).

Ambore is three camps in one on the outskirts of Muzaffarabad housing 3456 persons (or 594 families). A delegation of human rights activists from Canada met them today at the camp. Led by Zafar Bangash, Convener, Friends of Kashmir Canada, the delegation also includes Dr Jonathan Kuttab, an International Human Rights lawyer, Mrs. Karen Rodman, Founder and Director of the Canadian NGO Just Peace Advocates, and Ms. Michaela Lavis, a Master’s student at York University in Toronto.

The Kashmiri refugee women had lost their loved ones but not their spirit of resistance. Interviewed by Michaela Lavis, the refugee women and girls narrated tales of indescribable suffering.

Almost everyone was forced to flee barefoot and without any possessions in 1990. But not every member of the family had made it out.

The people of Indian occupied Kashmir had risen up against the massive rigging in elections held in 1987 that had convinced them that India would not allow even peaceful participation in their affairs.

The Indian occupiers unleashed a reign of terror. Kashmiri youth were routinely arrested at checkpoints, interrogated for hours and often thrown in jail without charge.
Others were gunned down in cold blood. The statistics speak for themselves.

Since 1989, at least 95,471 persons have been killed according to figures compiled by the Kashmir Media Service (KMS).

Most of the women interviewed by Ms. Lavis ranged in age from 45 to 80. And almost everyone had lost a loved one: husband, son or brother. Some had lost more than one family member.

They were shot and killed by the Indian occupation army. The circumstances of their killing were also quite similar.

In almost all cases, they had returned to Indian occupied Kashmir to bring other members of their family still trapped inside, to AJK.

Most of the men killed were ordinary farmers.

In the intensified military crackdown, their houses were set ablaze. Since 1990, at least 105,160 houses or other structures have been destroyed by the Indian army in Kashmir.

Even schools have not been spared. Some 553 children have been burned alive in schools.

And since August 5, 2019, India has imposed a complete lockdown in Kashmir denying people access to food, water and desperately needed medicines.

And those that were forced to flee have lost their homes and small plots of land, forcibly confiscated by the Indian occupiers.

The occupation army also has launched a campaign to chop down orchards, denying the Kashmiri people an important source of livelihood.

On December 10, coinciding with International Human Rights Day, rallies were held in all major cities in Pakistan as well as Muzaffarabad in AJK to express solidarity with the people of Occupied Kashmir.

When asked what was their greatest wish, almost all women said they wanted freedom from the Indian occupiers and wished to return to their homes.

They also expressed deep appreciation for the governments of Pakistan and AJK for providing them financial support to the tune of Rs.2000 per person every month. Although a small amount, considering that their education, medical needs, electricity and water are free and men are allowed to work, the stipend goes some way to enable them to survive.

Pakistan and AJK governments spend Rs. 10.14 billion per year to look after the refugee families.

The Canadian delegation was shocked to learn that not one international humanitarian organization had visited any of the camps in 30 years to offer support of any kind.

There are more than 40,000 refugees spread across five districts in AJK: Muzaffarabad, Bagh, Kotli, Mirpur and Rawlakot.

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