Hidden Life in a Basement

Author: Kamran Mahmudov, Aziz Karimov

Edition: Migration


Ophelia Jafarova has been an IDP from Agdam since 1994. “I am 49 years old, and I have been living in the Yeni Yasamal-1 district for 9 years already; in the basement of Building No. 13, among the sewage pipes, with rats and mice.” 




In the entrance to this basement, Ophelia has built a kitchen. And because of the persistent dampness in the space, she sleeps in her makeshift kitchen with the stove on.

In the depths of the basement she built a toilet. She gets dizzy spells from the dampness, humidity, and the overwhelming smell of sewage.

During the war she and her family left their home in search of asylum. Her family finally settled in the Yevlakh region. Shortly after, her father died, and then her mother. Left alone, Ophelia went to Baku to find a job and to be closer to her sister, the only person she had to turn to for support.

Baku, however, was not friendly to Ophelia. She was unable to find decent accommodation, and wound up living in this basement.

"For several years I have been living in difficult conditions. I have a weak heart. Once I settled here I also developed rheumatism."

Her illness eventually forced her to leave the bakery job she had found in the city.

Now Ophelia works in a stores and receives only five manats a day as a salary. "I get help from relatives too, particularly from my sister.  At my age it is too late to create [my own] family."

During our conversation, Ophelia revealed that she receives no IDP benefits, a monthly allowance for immigrants, or other assistance. When O. Jafarova arrived in Baku, she did not know where to register and never had a chance to appeal her case.

The basement of the building No. 13 is in Yeni Yasamal-1. Usually, where gas and water pipes are passing through in basements is shelter for street animals. But in this situation it is quite different.
Despite the conditions of this place, she turned this basement into a house.
Life here is dangerous. Humidity is the cause of many health issues.
At the same time, food prepared on the handicraft gas stove can be dangerous for one’s health. Additionally, because of the humidity in the room, she turned the stove on and and left it overnights.

At the same time, no one from the government or any refugee service was interested in her either.

"I don’t have anyone. no father, no brother, no family who could do it. And I'm an uneducated woman. And until now, nobody has been interested in me."

Ophelia says now she wants one thing in life: a house with normal living conditions. She says that she sees on TV how they build houses and towns for IDPs.

"I do not know whom to ask and where to go and get an apartment, [one that is] small but comfortable... Sometimes the pipes in this basement break, and I have to sleep on the street."

On Ophelia’s behalf, we appealed to the State Committee for Refugees and IDPs. The spokesperson for the committee, Elchin Gadimov, denied that Ophelia had ever registered in the Agdam region, but stated that if she appeals to the Executive Power her case would be taken into consideration, and she could get benefits intended for IDPs. Regarding her house, he said “Ophelia left the temporary residence for IDPs, went to Baku, and found shelter here. It would be more appropriate if she appeals to the City Executive Power where she is registered.”

When we left Ophelia’s house-basement, the street was dark and she was returning from work. She said she would have dinner and go to bed. But tomorrow morning will not bring any changes, just another day in her 9 year struggle as an IDP.

Despite the fact that everyone has neighbors in this building, Opheliya does not have any. She lives here alone and spending all her days watching television.
The smell of dampened walls and humidity is overwhelming. It is also a bath and toilet.
The smell of dampened walls and humidity is overwhelming. It is also a bath and toilet.
Only one step is dividing her room from the kitchen. The smell of the humidity in the toilet is in her room.
Day by day, her life is under these dangerous conditions, however, she still has hope.

“This material has been prepared with the support of International Alert as part of the project ‘Unheard Voices’, financed by the Conflict Stability and Security Fund of Great Britain. The content is the responsibility of the journalists and does not necessarily reflect the views of International Alert and our donors.”

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