Living and suffering in Peshawar

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Worldwide, 100 million people are on the run. On the occasion of World Refugee Day on 20 June, Solidar Suisse is drawing attention to the situation of Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

In addition to the unspeakably brutal war that Putin is waging against Ukraine, there are numerous other countries in 2022 where military conflicts or wars are being fought – and millions of people are being turned into refugees. In Bangladesh, Somalia, Syria or Burkina Faso, people are forced to leave their homes because of this. Also in Afghanistan. Since the withdrawal of US and NATO troops in the summer of 2021 and the resulting takeover of power by the Taliban, fear and insecurity rule the country. The already insecure food situation has increased further. The security situation is rapidly deteriorating, making it difficult to provide for vulnerable populations. Women, children and the elderly suffer the most from hunger. In addition, there is an increase in gender-based violence. Those who can, flee. According to UNHCR, hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees are still migrating to neighboring countries. To date, millions of people have fled to Iran and Pakistan. Inofficial numbers say, 3 million Afghans live in Pakistan. Official numbers call it 1,4 millions.

Beginnings in Pakistan

In order to support the Afghan refugees in Pakistan, Solidar Suisse 2022 has started a new project and is working together with the local organisation SPADO – Sustainable Peace and Development Organisation. In the two refugee settlements Nasir Bagh and Taj Abad in Peshawar we are providing assistance so that basic needs of the refugees from Afghanistan are met. During a visit by Solidar Suisse, the plight of the refugees in Peshawar left one speechless. When you turn off the main road into the slum areas of Nasir Bagh, you can feel the misery, poverty and deprivation in the settlement. Everywhere you see the mud houses and makeshift dwellings made of schrott, rubble and cloth. Children walk the streets without shoes. They have no opportunity for schooling, child labour is common in the refugee communities. People do not have the means to feed their families, nor do they have any means to make a living.

Afghan refugees have been living in such settlements for more than 40 years in some cases – since the Soviet invasion in the 1980s. Ameenullah Z.* and Dil Jan F.* are two of the millions of Afghans who have fled to Peshawar. They told us their story.

*names changed

Portraits of Afghan refugees in Peshawar

Ameenullah Z.

Ameenullah Z. (left) is 52 years old and migrated from Afghanistan to Peshawar in Pakistan.

The story of Ameenullah Z.* is representative of the plight of all refugees who have had to leave their homes. Ameenullah Z lived with his family on the outskirts of Kunduz, a city in northern Afghanistan. Before the withdrawal of US and NATO troops in August 2021, his life was peaceful. He worked as a day labourer and lived together with his eight children and mother.

Today, Kunduz is considered a Taliban stronghold. “We did not expect the Taliban to come to power so quickly. We thought the time of extremism was over. But suddenly we found ourselves under the same regime we thought defeated two decades earlier, in 2002.” With the takeover, the rules began to change for the residents of Kunduz. Shops closed, public life came to a standstill, there was no work to be found. “We, the people of Afghanistan, have become sandwiches in this war. We are constantly on the move, because in the past decades there has been no peace and no sustainability in Afghanistan,” says the 52-year-old. Ameenullah Z. decided to leave the city. A friend of his family told him that he would flee to Pakistan. Ameenullah Z. did the same. “We locked our house, took nothing with us, and left.” Together with other fugitives, they travelled in a truck for three days to the border with Pakistan. They spent days looking for another ride to get to Peshawar because they had heard that many Afghans lived there.

Today, Ameenullah Z. lives with a host family in a mud house. They rely on local charities. They are all worried about the future. “Before, the authorities had a relaxed attitude towards the refugees. Now we live in a constant state of fear and uncertainty, with no hope of returning home soon,” he says.

*name changed 

Dil Jan F.

Dil Jan F. is 62 and fled from Afghanistan to Pakistan with her eight children in February 2022.

Women are the worst victims in any emergency or disaster situation. They are at greater risk of exploitation, abuse, harassment and other dangers. They have to wear veils and are dependent on men for everything. However, there are some brave women who would take anything for the sake of their children and families. Dil Jan F.* is one such woman. No suffering that has fallen on her has been able to stop her so far.

Dil Jan F. comes from Logar province near Kabul, Afghanistan. She has eight children, three daughters and five sons, her husband died a few years ago. “We lived peacefully, owned a small piece of land where we grew fruit and other crops for our own use,” the 62-year-old says. When the crisis in Afghanistan reached its sad peak in 2021, the security situation became unpredictable. There was chaos everywhere and, as Logar province is close to Kabul, there was concern and fear. Markets were closed and the economic outlook became bleak. The very idea of leaving her homeland frightened her. “How could I leave my home, my country, my people?” she asked herself. But when she realised that everyone around her was talking about leaving Afghanistan, she too decided to leave. In February 2022, she and her children joined a group of people heading towards the border areas near Peshawar. “Along the way, there was a constant fear that the Taliban would find us and stop us from leaving the country.”

After a long and dangerous journey that took many days, they reached their Peshawar. They arrived in the Nasir Bagh area, where they made makeshift arrangements in the shanty town with the help of old cloths. They have no luggage with them. The Dil Jan F. family’s survival depends entirely on food and other items provided by local charities and other relatives. Their older son is now trying to find work in the local fruit market to earn a living, but they live in a constant state of fear and uncertainty in this foreign land.

*name changed

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