Reconstruction fails to console arson victims
Lahore Christians still in fear after mob attacks
An impressively quick relief effort has seen the rebuilding of several burned-out homes, but failed to lift the anxiety of many Christians from Joseph Colony. Now residing in relief camps, they say they are worried about further reprisals as well as shoddy construction.
A total of 178 houses and two churches were burned in attacks earlier this month, following a blasphemy allegation.
The Punjab government has rebuilt 60 of the houses and distributed cheques amounting to more than US$5,000 to victims of the March 9 attack on the Christian slum in Lahore.
“Rehabilitation of church, a project by Punjab Chief Minister Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif," read plaques displayed at the entrances of the Catholic and Seventh Day Adventist churches that have been whitewashed and decorated with brown tiles.
“The reconstruction will be completed this week. We hired 21 contractors for the project and 700 laborers, all of them Muslims, who are working here around the clock," said Senator Kamran Michael.
“The previously built quarters for the sanitary workers of Joseph Colony were worn out. We have built stronger roofs," he said. The government has allocated US$1,363,112 in compensation funds and additional money for construction will be calculated, he added.
The Lahore district government has urged refugees not to complain about the quality of the buildings. As part of that, announcements play over loudspeakers at the temporary shelters:
"Do not interrupt the workers." “Do not be rude or your cheques will be cancelled and your house will be unfinished."
Although tired of waiting in these shelters, many families are still hesitant to return to the newly whitewashed colony. Sitting in the street in front of his house, Nattan Bernard sobs with his family, while laborers drive by with heavy vehicles and donkey carts loaded with cement bags.
“They say your house is ready after whitewashing the front portion and leaving the two rooms inside which are still covered in ash," Bernard said. "Ceilings are torn away; walls are still cracked. We do not feel secure inside.
“Most of the people who helped us were Muslims, but there are others who say we are receiving aid and have hit a jackpot," he said. "The steel factories around the colony remain closed. I know they will blame us for their loss."
Rains at night have added to the woes in the relief camps. Allah Rakhi, a woman in her 70s whose house is near completion, is worried for her five daughters after the family spent the last two nights in the dripping tent.
“Those were restless long nights. Our beds became wet. The children tried to cover themselves with one blanket," she said.
Rakhi, who suffers from diabetes, says her condition worsened after the attack. She only escaped because three children, who were part of the mob, urged her to run.
“I was waiting for my husband when three children, around eight to 10 years old, climbed onto our roof. 'Don’t worry. We will not hurt you. Just pretend you are Muslim and get out of here,' they said."
“We crossed at least three roofs to climb down the street on the other side. One news reporter gave me 200 rupees to get a tuk-tuk. I have been exhausted and tense since then," Rakhi said.
She and her husband, also in his 70s, are being treated at the medical camp of Caritas Pakistan Lahore, where eight doctors have treated more than 300 victims, mostly suffering from chest and skin infections as well as fever and body pains. Dr. Nabeel Saqib of Caritas fears outbreaks of malaria and diarrhea in the slum.
“Most of those treated were women and children living on road sides which were previously being used as garbage dumps," he said. "Many older patients lost their prescriptions in the fire. Others suffer from insomnia. People are getting water from surrounding mosques, where there are no water filters installed. Sand and smoke from construction sites is another problem."
The medical camp will bring in a psychiatrist as well, he said. “People are still in shock."
Rakhi is among the many who remain fearful of further attacks.
“Now politicians, police and higher courts are active but there was no justice to save us when the mob came. Muslims were our neighbors for years but I do not believe anyone; only Lord Jesus will protect us now," she said.
"This will be a sad Easter."
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