Taliban takeover worries Afghan refugees in India

As more Afghan refugees arrive, those already here say life very difficult


August 20, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

The precipitous fall of Kabul to the Taliban on Sunday has left the Afghan refugees living in India very anxious about the safety of their loved ones left behind in Afghanistan. While they welcome the decision of Indian government to ease visa process for a fresh flow of refugees from Afghanistan, but they also complain about the quality of life in India, saying they have not had any support to rebuild their lives.

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Streets in both, Lajpat Nagar as well as adjoining Bhogal area, bear tell-tale signs of a sizeable Afghani community. There are numerous hair saloons or beauty parlours, travel agents, real estate brokers, pharmacies and restaurants catering almost exclusively to the Afghani community. While some of the Afghans living here came decades ago, the flow of refugees has continued over the years as the war continued. Most of them are worried over the return of a Taliban government in Kabul.

Mohammad Shafiq, a 17-year-old Afghani, is one of the later arrivals. Shafiq came to India with his parents four years ago. As they were too poor to afford to send him to school, Shafiq began working at this restaurant in Lajpat Nagar, where he makes about INR 8,000 every month. Shafiq says he and his parents are worried about the developments in Afghanistan, saying his own maternal uncle who used to work for Americans has been missing since nearly a week after some Taliban militants came to their office and captured 35 workers. He says he has not been able to get any information about him since.

Praying for safety of loved ones

“The last time I spoke to my relatives in Afghanistan was two days ago. My maternal uncle who is 25-year-old, has been captured by the Taliban as he used to work for the Americans. The Taliban went and captured all the people who were working in that office. There were 35 people there and the Taliban put them all together in one room.

My uncle had two phones with him and when the Taliban took everyone’s phone from them, my uncle gave only one and hid the other. Then he called my mother and said that the Taliban had caught him and would kill him,” Shafiq tells Media India Group.

“Till now we don’t know what has happened to my uncle, if he is alive or dead. We called him again day before yesterday, we tried to call him for three hours, but he has not answered any more calls. We are very worried about his safety,” says Shafiq.

Just adjacent to Lajpat Nagar is Bhogal in Jangpura which is also home to many Afghan refugees. The two localities bear similar signs of hosting a vibrant community. Rehman Noori has been living at Bhogal ever since he arrived in New Delhi as a refugee six years ago. Noori says he used to work with the Americans in Kabul, but he was forced to flee for his life after the Taliban began threatening him.

“I was working in the American government office in Kabul and started getting threats from the Taliban. That is why I left as I have two daughters and was scared so I came to India. Now it has been six years that I am living here,” Noori tells Media India Group.

However, as Noori’s parents and siblings have continued to stay in Kabul, he is worried about their safety now that the Taliban are back in control of the country. Noori is not the only Afghan refugee worried about the safety of the loved ones still living in their homeland.

A 28-year-old woman, who does not want her identity to be revealed, says she came to India about 15 years ago, with her family, escaping the brutality of the Taliban. She says that neither the men nor women were safe in Afghanistan and she fears that with Taliban back in control, the same troubles and violence will come back. “When we were living there in Afghanistan, bomb blasts used to happen frequently. The Taliban used to force themselves into homes and forcibly take the women with them and there were lot of rape cases. They also used to kidnap children from schools. These things used to happen quite often and that is why we fled to save ourselves from that situation. We did this because we wanted to make a future for ourselves so that we could make the future of Afghanistan. But now things have escalated. Women will again have to wear burqas, the men will have to do namaz and keep long beards,” she says.

Young girls and women most vulnerable

While almost all Afghans may fear the Taliban, it is the women and girls that have ended up paying the heaviest price. Before they were ousted in 2001, the Taliban had banned Afghan girls from going to school and imposed severe curbs on women, from their attire to the civil rights. The women fear the same practices like closing girls’ schools or kidnapping unmarried girls to use as sex slaves of the Taliban would recommence.

“It is going to be even more difficult for women as the Taliban take the small children with them. They take the small girls and not the ones who are married as the Taliban need virgin girls as wives. Now again, the girls cannot go to school, they will have to move around in burqas and they can’t leave their homes freely. There are some girls who want to achieve something, but in Afghanistan that is not possible anymore,” she says.

Another Afghan woman, who also requests anonymity, says that now that the Taliban is back in control, it will undo all the hard work and progress made by Afghanistan since 2001 and push the country back to the 1990s. “Afghanistan is going to become what it was 20 years ago. It is unfortunate as all the people of Afghanistan have worked so hard in the last two decades so that their country can develop and they can build their lives. But now again it will be what it was 20 years ago or it might even become worse than what it was earlier,” she warns.

The women say that their families and others still living in Afghanistan have been shocked and traumatised by the return of the Taliban and the way the United States simply abandoned the people of Afghanistan. “People are so scared in Afghanistan right now. Some are so shocked that they can’t even say a word. When we try to call them all they do is to cry and say that they are stuck. We are also very worried as our families are trapped over there. Allah only knows what will happen to them,” say the women.

Life no bed of roses in India

Though the Afghans say they have always felt secure and safe in India and have not been harassed by the local population, but they unanimously complain about the difficult life they have to lead here as they have very limited facilities and rebuilding their lives in India is an arduous task as jobs are practically impossible, especially those matching their skills or education levels.

Many Afghani refugees living in India complain about the difficult life they have to lead here due to the limited facilities (MIG photos/File photo)

“Whatever work I can get here, I do that. Sometimes I make chapattis, some time I do painting. In Afghanistan, I was a sales manager and now over here I am painting walls of houses. This too, I get sometimes and sometimes I don’t,” says Noori.

Most of them say that they have received no support at all from the Indian government for helping them to be able to settle here and start afresh. They say that even multilateral agencies like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have done little to help them.

“I have registered myself at the UNHCR office. But they are not doing anything to help us. They do nothing even if we die of starvation. The only thing they do is to issue a refugee card and after that they only put stamps for a year and say that you come back after one year. They don’t know or even think of the problems we face here. We do not get jobs over here. Where are we supposed to get things from and how are we supposed to eat?” he asks, agitated.

Lida, another Afghan refugee, has been living in New Delhi for almost eight years. Her experience in India has been no different from that of Noori or other refugees. She says that the pandemic and the economic collapse that followed has hit refugees like her the hardest. “Earlier when we had jobs, we could manage to pay rent with that money. Now, we were somehow trying to live with what we had, but we have no future here. Maybe in the next one month or so, we will run out of all our savings and it has been now two years now that because of the pandemic we have nothing left. We would like to request you to make our voices heard to the UNHCR,” Lida tells Media India Group.

“They should think about our future. If conditions in India remain the same and refugees like us cannot find any proper jobs or get some support from the host government, then the UNHCR should send us to some other country. For how long are we going to stay here? It is the question of our children’s future,” she adds.



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