The Afghan government has launched a major campaign to round up and relocate drug addicts from Kabul to a new rehab camp in the city.
Now, hundreds of drug users find themselves at Camp Phoenix – working their way through the painful road to recovery.
Ghayor Waziri visited the camp to find out more.
Afghan government workers are arriving at Pol-E- Sokhta in western Kabul, a place where hundreds of drug addicts gather each day.
They have been tasked with rounding up the city’s drug users and moving them to a former NATO base, less than 10 kilometers away.
The counter-narcotics, public health and economy ministries have joined together in the initiative to provide treatment for drug addicts at the camp.
Salamat Azimi, the Counter Narcotics Minister, explains.
“We are ready to treat thousands of drug addicts in this camp, which has a key role for counter narcotics in the country,” says Azimi, “We will open the next camp in eastern Afghanistan as well, which can treat a thousand addicts. We plan to provide services to those who are addicted to drugs and are living in a very bad situation.”
Thirty-five-year-old Gul Aqa has been using a cocktail of drugs, from morphine to opium, for about three years now.
Some of his fingers are burnt from accidentally lighting his hands while smoking drugs.
Gul says he needs help to treat his addiction.
“I want to be treated so I can return to my old life,” he says, “Nobody has offered to provide treatment before, so I am happy to go to this rehab center.”
In the past few days, hundreds of drug users have been collected from the streets and moved to Camp Phoenix.
From outside the camp looks like a military base, but inside the rooms are modern and clean.
It’s here where Kabul’s addicts will be treated and trained in skills such as carpentry and painting…
Public Health Minister Ferozuddin Feroz says they plan to help as many users as possible.
“Our aim is to collect drug addicts who are homeless, abandoned by their relatives, and are living on the street,” he explains, “The campaign will continue over the coming days. Alongside treatment at the camp, they will be trained in different skills and professions to stimulate their minds and encourage to move away from drugs.”
Playing musical instruments is one form of therapy at Camp Phoenix.
The music seems to help them forget their troubles, or the path that led to drugs in the first place.
Thirty-year-old Habiballah is a former soldier for the Afghan army. He served in the war-torn province of Helmand, and started using drugs to cope with the pressure of fighting against the Taliban and their violent ambushes…
Habiballah has been at Camp Phoenix for a week now. Before he became an addict he was a sergeant in the army in Helmand province.
“During the fighting and insurgency there I had a lot of mental stress, that’s why I started using drugs,” he says, “And when I got addicted my relationship with my wife and daughters and other family members fell apart, and I also had to leave the army. I don’t know where my family is now... So far the treatment has been good, I feel happy and healthy and hope to get back to normal.”
But not every drug user is happy to be taken to Camp Phoenix. A number of addicts that live under a bridge in the western part of Kabul refuse to move.
Relapsed drug user Mohammad Yasin became addicted to morphine while living as a refugee in Iran 12 years ago.
“Once I was treated and stopped taking drugs, but when I became unemployed for months, I started it again,” says Yasin, “When I can’t find money to buy drugs, I receive drugs from people who sell it and I then I sell it for them, so I get the drug for free. Sometime addicts also steal, from shops, houses and people, so they can find the money.”
According to the government there is an estimated 3.5 million people addicted to drugs in Afghanistan.
Civil society activists say the government’s campaign is a good way to prevent the production and smuggling of drugs across the country.
But for a country like Afghanistan – one of the biggest producers of narcotics in the world – it won’t be easy for everyone to kick the habit.