PESHAWAR, June 23 (IPS) – “We came here in 1979 after Russia invaded Afghanistan. My children and grandchildren grew up here and they don’t want to go back to that war-torn country. I sometimes go there to mourn the deaths of my loved ones and close ones,” said Muhammad Jabbar, 67, a former resident of Kabul, the Afghan capital.
Jabbar, who sells dried fruits at the Muhajir Bazaar (known as the ‘refugee market’), in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of Pakistan’s four provinces, says he hasn’t been able to convince members in family visit them. country due to endless violence.
The latest in that string of events was the Taliban takeover in August 2021, which further increased Jabbar’s fear that even he might no longer be able to visit his homeland. me. At the same time, he acknowledged that Pakistan is now home to the family and called the locals ‘friendly’.
The South Asian country is home to 3.3 million registered refugees and more than double these unregistered people have fled neighboring Afghanistan. Most of them run small businesses or run odd jobs and send money back to family members who stay at the border.
Hayat Shah, a vegetable seller in the same market, said business was so good that he and his family never thought of returning. “We are very happy because here we live in peace and earn money for our survival. In Afghanistan, people are facing an extremely difficult economic situation. Shah, 49, said.
“We arrived in Peshawar in early 1992 when our house was bombed by unknown people. My parents and two brothers are dead,” he added.
Shah and his family live in Camp Baghlan in Peshawar, one of 3,500 refugee families in the camp (although UNHCR now calls the camp a ‘refugee village’). There are 54 refugee camps across Pakistan – 43 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province – home to 32% of refugees. More than two-thirds of refugees live in urban areas, where they are legally allowed to work, according to UNHCR.
Most of the Afghans interviewed by IPS in this market said they feel that Pakistan is now home. Ninety percent of the traders in the vast bazaar are Afghan businessmen, who run clothing, fish, meat and fruit and vegetable shops. Fruit seller Ghafoor Shah said: “The refugee bazar was bustling with Afghan women and men buying all sorts of things. “This market is no different from any other in Afghanistan, where women in burkas can be seen shopping,” he added.
Sultana, 51, said they often go to the market to shop in bulk for the Muslim Eidul Fitre festival, marriage ceremony and other holidays. “We can find all kinds of articles we need that fit the Afghan tradition. We women can talk to Afghan shopkeepers and tailors easily in our language compared to Pakistanis, who find it difficult to converse with them.”
UNHCR spokesman for Pakistan Qaisar Khan Afridi told IPS that the arrival of new refugees after the Taliban took power in Kabul had created major problems.
“More than 250,000 Afghans have come here in the last 18 months – those are just registered refugees. The UN Refugee Agency is negotiating with the host government to find a solution to this problem of unregistered people in Pakistan”, he added, “Pakistan does not accept refugees. new,” he added.
UNHCR’s voluntary repatriation program for refugees to Afghanistan has been almost completely stopped. Only 185 families have returned since January of this year, with each family receiving $250 in assistance. About 4.4 million refugees have been repatriated since 2002.
Muhammad Hashim, a reporter for Shamshad TV in Jalalabad, told IPS that the Taliban do not allow journalists to work freely and are suspicious of anyone recruited during the term of the old government. “My wife and two daughters came to Pakistan by the opposite route and now we are trying to apply for asylum in the US or any European country. Going back is unquestionable,” he told IPS, awaiting registration outside UNHCR’s office in Peshawar.
Hashim, 41, says he survived a murder the day before departing for Pakistan and left so quickly that his belongings remained in Afghanistan.
Women journalists are sitting at home, he added. Fearing prosecution by the Taliban, he said, hundreds of people who worked in the police or in former Afghan government offices have also flocked to Pakistan. “Violence and lack of jobs, educational and medical facilities are haunting people.”
Teacher Mushtari Begum, 39, is one of the newest refugees. “I graduated with a master’s degree in computer science from Kabul University and taught at a private girls’ school for eight years. Now, all-girls schools are closed and teachers and students are sitting in their homes,” said Begum, a mother of two. “We are temporarily living with relatives in Peshawar and have run out of money,” she added.
On June 12, the government of Pakistan adopted a policy whereby transit visas will be issued to Afghan asylum seekers to allow them to visit any country of their choice. At the same time, the federal cabinet said Pakistan has always welcomed refugees and will continue to host them in their efforts.
Gul Rahim, a taxi driver in Nowshera district near Peshawar, said he came here in 2002 and was fortunate to have raised two sons. “Pakistan has proved a lucky thing for me. In Afghanistan, I will not be able to raise my sons, who are currently teaching at a refugee school and helping me financially.”
Fazal Ahmed, a local officer at the Afghanistan commission in Peshawar, which oversees all refugee camps in the province, said they regularly hold awareness-raising sessions for refugees, on issues such as violence and gender, health and education. “In more than 30 refugee camps, we also arrange skills development programs, especially to enable women to earn a livelihood.
“Sports activities are part of our programme, organized by us in partnership with UNHCR. He added that Afghan students have also been accepted into Pakistani schools, universities and medical colleges.
However, all is not good. Many refugees complain of police harassment, an allegation vehemently denied by the authorities.
“We came here in February 2022 because we were afraid of Taliban retaliation. We don’t have documents because Pakistan doesn’t register new refugees and the police often arrest us and only release us when we bribe,” said Usman Ali, who served as a police officer in the former Kabul government. know. Ali, 24, said his brother, a former soldier, was killed by the Taliban in December 2021.
“To save my life, I rushed to the Pakistani border on a passenger bus and ended up in Peshawar,” he added.
Local government official Jehanzeb Khan told IPS that Afghans were treated as guests. “There are isolated cases where Afghans have been mistreated by local people, but we will act on complaints,” he said.
On Nasir Bagh Road, where Ali sells cosmetics from handcarts, Police Ahmad Nawaz told IPS that they only arrest Afghans who are involved in crime and are friendly with innocent people. “Afghan people do robberies and even murders and go back to Afghanistan. We are not harassing Afghans (who live here) because they are having a hard time,” added Nawaz.
© Inter Press Service (2022) – All rights reservedOrigin: Inter Press Service