Victims of war: Afghans in India seek resettlement in third country
Armed with posters, placards and their national flag, hundreds of Afghan nationals gathered outside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Vasant Vihar on Monday to raise their demand for resettlement somewhere other than India.
Holding placards reading “We were victims of war, now we are victims of an unclear future”, “Our children have a dark future because they have no access to higher education” and raising slogans like “We want future, we want a support letter”, protesters of all ages said that though they were grateful for being given refuge in India, they pointed out that they were unable to get jobs due to lack of educational qualifications, or study on account of expensive private education, and sought the UNHCR’s support to build a future elsewhere. They said they won’t leave the protest site till their demands are met.
Rahila Malikzada (40), who first came to India in 2005, said that she was uncertain about her children’s future, even after 17 years of living here: “We don’t have any rights even after 17 years of living here. We don’t get jobs. Our children are unable to study here. We need a future. With the Taliban coming back, we can no longer return to our country. The UNHCR should give us a referral letter so that we can settle in another country.”
Her husband used to work as a translator with hospitals but has been out of work since the last few months. The family withdrew their children from the school last year amid financial constraints. “We can barely make ends meet here. Since there is no clarity about our future in the country, UNHCR should help us resettle in another country,” said Malikzada.
Ahmed Zia Ghani, head of the Afghan solidarity committee, an organisation representing the community in India, said that the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan had compounded troubles for Afghans everywhere. “Afghans in India also need support. The refugee agency and the Indian government should take steps to safeguard the human rights of Afghans,” said Ghani.
He said the aim of the demonstration was three-fold: seek refugee cards for all Afghans in the country, seek referral letters that would aid resettlement to a third country, and ensure security for Afghans in India.
Third country resettlement or refugee resettlement is, according to the UNHCR, one of three durable solutions for refugees who flee their home country. Resettlement under UNHCR, which allows a refugee to leaves his/her country of asylum and legally settle in another country, are determined by participating governments. Resettlement quotas of countries around the world can currently only include a tiny proportion of refugees worldwide (less than 1%), said UNHCR officials.
India does not have a formal asylum system or a refugee policy, even though it has played host to refugees from different countries over the years. The country is not a signatory to 1951 UN Convention, a key international treaty establishing the rights of people forced to flee, and the 1967 Protocol, which broadened the scope of those in need of international protection. In the absence of a well-defined refugee law, refugees and asylum seekers are often subjected to inconsistent government policies. HT reached out to officials in the Ministry of Home Affairs for comment but there was no response.
Holder a UN refugee card, Ajmal Rahimy (34), a native of Jalalabad in Afghanistan who came to India in 2007, said he has approached the UNHCR multiple times over the last 15 years for resettlement but to no avail.
“There are Afghans who have lived in the country for 15-16 years now and hold the UN refugee card. At the same time, there are people whose refugee status has not been ratified and still remain an asylum seeker. Many are waiting endlessly. There is no clarity about our future here but our resettlement requests are turned down without adequate explanation,” said Rahimy.
Azeeza Qadri (40), who came to India in 2017 and is currently residing in Malviya Nagar, can attest to the long wait. “We have applied for refugee status multiple times but our case has been closed. We want the UNHCR to open our case so that our children can study and have a future. The uncertainty about our future is causing a heavy mental toll now,” said Qadri, who has five children.
Zuhail Hussain Khil (18) came to India along with her family from Afghanistan’s eastern city of Khost in 2017 in the face of Taliban threats aimed at her mother, who worked with the United Nations. “My mother has been constantly crying thinking about our country and our lives here. We need some stability in our lives,” said Khil.
Explaining the family’s predicament, she shared how her brothers dropped out of school and have since depended on odd jobs for livelihood. “Since we are foreign citizens, education is extremely expensive for us here. My brothers could not complete their education and have no choice but to work in restaurants or other jobs where no degree is required,” she said.
The protesters said that getting admission in government schools is a challenge as they demand a range of documents which are mostly not available with them.
Her views are echoed by other Afghan refugees and asylum seekers in the country.
Hafiza Nooryar (40), who came to the country in 2015 along with her family, said she has been struggling to make ends meet for the last six years.
“My children are young and I cannot get well-paying jobs in the absence of educational qualifications...How will they survive like this?” said Nooryar, who hails from Kabul.
Mariyam (19) came to India along with her family members in 2013 amid threats from her brother-in-law, a Taliban sympathiser. “We came to India due to the Taliban’s threat and now they are back in power. Our president left us in the lurch. Our hopes for peace and stability are over,” she said.
The 19-year-old shared that the pandemic has worsened the financial crisis for the family and made survival in India more difficult. “Since our parents cannot speak in the regional languages of India, they can’t get jobs. We don’t want to meet a similar fate and desire to live in a country with a policy for refugees,” added Mariyam.
While UNHCR officials did not respond to requests seeking comment, a notice issued by the UN agency on Thursday said that it had been receiving many inquiries from Afghans, adding that the resettlement programme will be accessible “only to those who meet eligibility criteria” and through the already established UNHCR procedures for identification and referral. “Resettlement remains a tool for the most vulnerable refugees, and only those most in need in the country of asylum may qualify,” stated the notice.
In a separate statement, UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo said, “In the context of generalised insecurity in many parts of Afghanistan, it is increasingly clear that Afghans outside the country may have international protection needs. UNHCR calls for all states to ensure they are able to seek safety, regardless of their current legal status.”