Treat us like humans, Afghan refugees tell UNHCR India

Afghan refugees in India seek resettlement overseas


August 25, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Just as a fresh flow of refugees from Afghanistan begins to arrive in India, those Afghans already in India for years begin indefinite protest against the UNHCR, citing total lack of support and violation of their rights as refugees by the UN body mandated to ensure refugee welfare across the world.

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Carrying placards like “We want Answers” and “We Want Justice” and shouting slogans against UNHCR, hundreds of Afghan refugees, including several women and children, have begun an indefinite protest outside the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in New Delhi demanding that they be granted refugee status.

The protest, that started on Monday is in its third day now, has been festering for a while. The protestors say that they have been living in India for as many as five or even 10 years, but the UNHCR has not yet given them the basic documents like a refugee card, which provides them with at least a bare minimum access to civic amenities like education or healthcare.

They also complained that without proper documentation from the UNHCR they are not eligible to find a proper job or even rent a house for staying, forcing them to do poorly paid odd jobs and live without proper accommodation.

Fariba has been living in India for the past 13 years in Delhi’s South Kailash area. She escaped from Afghanistan with her husband and children as her husband used to work with the Afghanistan Army and had been repeatedly threatened by the Taliban.

She says that their protest is not to get money or even other facilities that are beyond the purview of the UNHCR, but simply for the UN body to do its job and issue them the right documents that can allow them to rebuild their lives here. And those who want to leave India and resettle somewhere else should be provided the support letters by the UNHCR, which is mandatory before the embassy of any other country in Delhi agrees to take up their request for asylum.

“Our only request to UNHCR is that they should reopen our cases. Earlier our families in Afghanistan used to send us money for rent. Now with the Taliban taking control over there, who will give us money? We will be on the streets. We have no jobs here. Our kids have now grown up and they are not getting any jobs. The UNHCR should send us to some other country and if it can’t even do that, then it should make our lives better in India. They should give us jobs and provide a better future for our kids,” Fariba tells Media India Group.

She says her husband had been working as a chef in an Afghani restaurant but ever since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, he lost that job also. She adds that currently most Afghan refugees in Delhi are unemployed and simply sitting at home.


The protestors are seeking “support letters” from the UN agency to migrate to other countries for better opportunities (MIG photos/Poorva Gupta)

The protestors reiterate that they have very few demands to make of the UNHCR, just that it gives them documents to enjoy the basic rights of refugees in any country.

“The biggest problem that we are facing is of papers. We don’t have any legal papers. And the documents that they give is also not adequate for our needs. Even they say that we are not legal residents then why are they keeping us here. We are protesting here not because Taliban has captured Afghanistan, but because we have no rights in this country,” says another woman at the protest who did not wish to be named.

Refugees keen to move to another country

Women at the protest site say that they had already lived through Taliban’s terror back in Afghanistan and came to India to escape that misery, but they continue to suffer in India as well. The refugees say that as they don’t foresee a proper future in India, without the documents, they would like the UNHCR to help them move to another country where it would be easier.

Shireen Noori has been living in South Delhi’s Malviya Nagar for the past three years. She came after a bomb blast in Afghanistan that injured her entire family eight years ago.

“Our only request to the UNHCR is that they should transfer us to some other country from India. We have no one who will help us. My daughter is suffering as well. We are dying bit by bit every day,” says Noori who is inconsolable while showing the burn injuries that she sustained from the bomb blast.

Afghan Flag

An Afghani kid with a drawing of Afghanistan flag (MIG photos/Poorva Gupta)

Aisha Khan, a 25-year-old Afghan woman, has been staying in Delhi for the past 13 years. Her father, who was an Army doctor in Afghanistan, died in a bomb blast at an army camp in 2009.

“We are here to protest against the UNHCR and not against Taliban. We want our rights here in this country. We have been staying in this country for so many years, but none of them at the UNHCR have helped us. They have simply been asking us to wait and after so many years, we don’t want that. We want an answer as to how long do we have to wait? We need homes, we need education, and everything else that we deserve as a human. We cannot even get a sim-card with the documents that they have provided us. I want to study but cannot as I don’t have an Indian ID proof and with the ID given by the UNHCR I can’t get into any college,” Aisha tells Media India Group.

The protestors say that the reason why they want to move to another country as each country has its own rules governing refugees and their rights. While India simply lets them stay, other countries open path to rebuilding their lives by providing access to education, housing, employment and even citizenship.

“In India we don’t get citizenship, we cannot even get proof of residence due to lack of documents and local rules. They allow us to stay here as long as we want, but we do not get any acceptance from the society or the government. We want answers from the UNHCR as to how do we have stay like this here,” says Khan. 

Not a child’s play

While the protest was highly animated, with lots of slogan shouting by the participants, the most enthusiastic lot here were the children who seemed to be competing with the adults in raising slogans with full energy and dedication. Children of various age groups, 10-year-olds, 5-year-olds and even toddlers were part of the protest. While a few of them had no idea why they were there, there were many children who knew exactly what they wanted.


Children of various age groups also participated in the protest (MIG photos/Aman Kanojiya)

One of them was 10-year-old Nazhat. “We are here because we want our refugee cards and we would like the UNHCR to reopen our cases. We are facing a lot of problems here. Problems in our house, problems of food and education, we are facing many problems,” Nazhat tells Media India Group.

Nazhat’s father, who is still in Afghanistan, lost his job after the Taliban captured the country. The 10-year-old says that as a result her father has been unable to send any money to them for sustenance and it has become very difficult for her mother to manage.

Another 10-year-old, Armgaan, who is also at the protest site, says that the UNHCR should listen to them. “The UNHCR should either give us money or give us a refugee card so that my parents could get a job again, so that I could go to school and meet my friends again. We want the UNHCR to give us a simple answer Yes or No on whether they will give us a refugee card or not. But they are not listening to us and not even coming out to give any answers,” she says.

Youth despair over prospects of a wasted life

Besides the children, there were also numerous Afghan youth amongst the protestors who say they face a bleak future without proper education and no prospects of employment, if they don’t get urgent assistance from the UNHCR.

Ahmad Khan Anjam, leader of the Afghan Youth Association Refugees, an NGO of the youth, was one of the leaders of the protest. Armed with a microphone and a mobile amplifier, he egged the protestors to join him in shouting slogans. He says he organised the protest with his team of students as he is an English teacher and gives tuitions to Afghan refugees.

“The UNHCR is not providing the refugees with any resettlement or the asylum seeker papers and this denies them the status of a refugee. For most of the refugees, their case is closed and they have been denied their right, which they want. Most of the refugees want to study in universities but they don’t have their visas or a refugee card. They just have an asylum seeker paper. With that paper they don’t even get a house for rent. In Afghanistan, we are afraid of the Taliban and here in India we fear the UNHCR.”

An Afghan woman protesting outside the UNHCR office in New Delhi (MIG photos/Aman Kanojiya)

Anjam is quick to clarify that the protest and anger is not directed against the Indian government or the people of India, who have all been very helpful.

“The Indian government, the media, the people and the police have been very supportive of us. We are very happy with the Indian government, but right now we are regulated by UNHCR and not by the Indian government,” says Anjam.

The 28-year-old leader who has been living in India for the past five years has his mother and sister still stuck in Afghanistan and is very scared for them. He says that his sister who is 18-year-old was studying medicine but right now she is in home. “For the past 15 days, she has been trapped at home which is now like a jail for her. My mother is also with her. I have asked them to wait. I want to do something, but I know I can’t do anything for them,” Anjam tells Media India Group.

The protestors say that they have launched the agitation only when they were left with no other recourse. But now that they have begun the protest, they will end it only when the UNHCR accedes to their demands, whether it takes a week or a month or however long. The UNHCR officials, who have so far failed to even acknowledge the protest, face a serious risk of dealing with a long drawn out embarrassing situation just at the time when the world’s attention is completely focused on Afghanistan and the fate of Afghan refugees.



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