Refugees Prefer Pakistan to Afghan Hell

Sabz Ali is one of millions of Afghan refugees who returned to their war-torn homeland in a quest for a better future promised by the US-backed Karzai government.

Refugees Prefer Pakistan to Afghan Hell

But he could hardly stay in his hometown Asadabad, the capital of southeastern Kunar province, for two months.

"It was almost impossible for me and my family to live there," Ali, who sells used clothes at a cart near an Afghan refugees camp in Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi, told

"There was no work, no law and order. Every warlord has set up his own state after every 40-50 Kilometers," fumed Ali, who returned to his country in 2004 under the Voluntary Repatriation Operation of UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

The US has invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to topple the Taliban regime which was accused of violating women rights.

Five years, Afghan officials and right activists believe that the West's strategy has proved failure in putting the country on the "path of progress" as promised.

Around 2.8 million Afghans have been repatriated from Pakistan with the assistance of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) since 2002.

According to independent estimates, thousands of them have come back to Pakistan.

UNHCR figures show that of the 2.5 million Afghans still living in Pakistan, some 57 percent are unwilling to go back to their war-ravaged homeland.

Islamabad has decided to register the Afghans in a bid to "fix" the Afghan population in the country for the first time since they fled the Soviet invasion in 1979.

Nearly around half a million Afghan refugees are residing in different refugee camps and places in Karachi, Pakistan's second largest city.


Ali, who first took refuge in Pakistan in 2001 after the US invaded his country to topple the ruling Taliban regime, recalled a bitter home-coming.

"I definitely miss my country and that was why I opted for repatriation," he said.

"But our lives and honor were not safe there. US and Afghan troops used to search our houses and even insist on unveiling our women," recalled the visibly moved father of four.

"They blamed us for harboring Taliban militants," he said.

Ali said fighting between the US-led forces, Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami leader Gulbadin Hikmatyar have become a daily routine in Kunar.

"US jets used to pound the area after every two-three weeks," he recalled, adding that the warplanes do not differentiate between the militants' hideouts and civilian population.

"It was horrific to see children and women running for shelter during the bombings. Thanks God, I and my family remained unhurt but many others were killed in front of me."

Fearing for the lives of his family members, Ali decided to leave his homeland once again.

Asked whether he was happy in Pakistan, Ali, who turned 40 last month, paused for a while.

"You see, it is difficult to answer. Though my life is safe here, I still feel myself an alien here. I don't have roots here. But on the other hand if I go back to my homeland, I will simply be killed or maimed."

Good Old Security    

Many Afghan refugees prefer difficult life in Pakistan to "no life" in Afghanistan. (IOL photo)

Hamza Khan, an elderly refugee, came to Pakistan when the former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in late 1970s.

Hemza, who speaks fluent Urdu with a Pushtu accent, has obtained the Pakistani citizenship and lives in the Surjani Town camp, a Karachi suburban.

He said that almost half of the refugees in the Surjani Town camp left for Afghanistan voluntarily, but many of them returned to Karachi.

"The are no jobs, no security, no order and no peace of mind," he told IOL.

"A year back, I went to Afghanistan along with my family and stayed there in a village of Baghlan province for three months," recalled Moeez Khan, a refugee employed with a carpet manufacturing factory in the suburbs of Karachi.

"Failing to find jobs there, we decided to return to Karachi," he told IOL.

"Now, I don't want to go back as I and my brothers are happy here," said the 18-year-old Afghan who grew up in Karachi and has his parents, three brothers and four sisters living with him.

Samanadar Khan, who had also returned with Ali to Afghanistan in 2004, came back to Pakistan after only six months.

"I know Taliban are considered bad people by the world, and I am not their supporter either but what I know is that there was an exemplary law and order in the country during their era," he told IOL in Karachi.

"All the warlords and drug traffickers had either fled to Pakistan or surrendered their weapons," he recalled the time of Taliban.

Samanadar's elder brother Sarzameen, who had decided not to leave his homeland despite bombings and fighting, was killed during an air strike on Waghai, a remote village of Asadabad, last year.

"There was dual fear. Even if you escaped US air raids, there were several local warlords and drug pushers who on regular basis extorted money from the local people," Samanadar recalled his short home-coming days.

"Whoever offered resistance to them, they either killed him or banished him from the area," he added.

Crushed under the vicious cycle of violence, many Afghans see peace as a distant dream and yearn for the peaceful days of the Taliban regime more than five years after its ouster

The latest report of the Afghani-UN Coordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB) on has warned that attacks in war-ravaged Afghanistan are killing four times more people this year.

Difficult Life    

Some Afghan refugees have been living in Pakistan since the Soviet invasion in 1979. (IOL photo)

Khan is trying to acquire a Pakistani identification card but after the introduction of a computerized ID card system, his is not as easy as it used to be five years ago.

"We cannot buy any property or vehicle legally if we don't have the national ID card," he lamented.

"Before leaving Afghanistan, I sold my land to my neighbor, although on much cheaper rates.

"I planned to buy a shop near a refugee camp to start a proper business, but I could not do that due to ID card problem," said Khan who now sells different items on a cart.

"I know various Afghans who have made huge properties in Pakistan, but it was before 9/11 when things were very easy. Now its is hard to even live here but at least our lives are safe," said a grateful Khan.

"We know we are not first class citizens. We want to go back to our country, but what will we do there. There is no work, no law and no safety to our lives."

Most of the refugees camps in Pakistan present a picture of dereliction.

Dotted with huts and hovels put together with the help of bamboos and bricks laced with mud, these settlements are far from meeting basic living standards.

Even the concrete structures have been erected without a proper planning. Most of the streets are too narrow for a small car to enter.

With their parents not believing in the importance of education, children are seen playing outside barefooted almost right through the day.

Abdul Waheed, a young Afghan, works in a private Karachi firm as a typist to support his mother, sister and sister-in-law whose husband was killed in a clash between Afghan soldiers and Taliban in Hilmand three years back.

"I found this job after a lingering struggle. I have to work much harder than my colleagues as I can't afford to be kicked out," Waheed told IOL.

He earns Rs 5,000 per month (80 dollars) and becomes hand to mouth in the end of month.

"I don't demand a pay increase because my boss knows that I would not find another job. For an Afghan, it is almost impossible to find a white-color job here."

Waheed, however, is happy with how ordinary Pakistanis, especially his neighbors, treat him.

"I don't feel any cultural difference here. Pushtu is spoken and recognized in all four provinces of Pakistan."

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16