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Struggling to survive

Hazara community continues to struggle for survival in Pakistan

October 01, 2023


brahimi, a 16-year-old boy, accompanied by younger brother, sells aloo paratha on the Dalazak Road in Peshawar to earn a meagre income for their family.

The family, consisting of eight people, left Kabul after the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan in August 2021. They live in a two-room rented house in City Town.

Ibrahimi belongs to the Hazara community. Several members of his family were part of the Afghan government during Ashraf Ghani’s tenure (from September 2014 to August 2021).

They left their homeland for security reasons.

According to UNHCR data, 1.6 million people fled Afghanistan after Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021. Around 600,000 crossed the border into Pakistan.

Speaking with The News on Sunday, Muhammad Nasir Hussaini, a Hazara community leader in Pakistan, says that most of their community members were from Kabul. According to his information, around 500 families have shifted to Attock district, 300 reside in City Town, 100 families have migrated to Abbottabad, 1,000 families are living in Rawalpindi and around 300 families are in Bharakahu, Islamabad.

He says thousands of families have applied for permission to go to other countries and are waiting for their visas in Islamabad.

Hussaini says many in the community were once accustomed to opulence and prosperity. However, they now find themselves grappling with the harsh realities of existence as refugees.

He says that some of the Hazara refugees once owned thriving businesses in Afghanistan. However, they now struggle to pay the rent for a modest house in Pakistan.

Ibrahimi’s father had a large qaleen business in Kabul. They owned several factories. Their daily income ran into millions, as their qaleens were not only famous in Afghanistan but also exported worldwide.

“There were around 120 workers in each of our factories. My father’s daily income was in millions of Afghanis. We never thought we would have to work in Kabul. But now my father is ill and unable to work,” says Ibrahimi.

Ibrahimi and his siblings were students at a private school in Kabul. He says they had never imagined they would one day be selling food for their family’s survival.

Ali Hassan, another member of the Hazara community living in Peshawar, counts several reasons for their decision to leave their homeland for Pakistan.

“Our leaders were arrested or forced to leave the country. There was no one in the Taliban government to advocate for our rights,” Hassan says.

The primary reason, he says, was security. The Taliban had arrested several key leaders. Their lives were in danger and there was no hope for them under the Taliban administration.

“Our leaders were arrested or forced to leave the country. There was no one in the Taliban government to advocate for our rights,” Hassan says.

He says that their businesses were closed, and all sources of income were cut off. Religious activities were banned and they could not freely practice their faith. During the holy month of Muharram, their religious activities were disrupted and many people were beaten.

Hassan says that no one wanted to leave their home country, but realised that their lives were becoming increasingly difficult. This prompted them to leave their luxurious lives and face hardships in Pakistan.

Ashraf Ali, another community leader, says that in Pakistan, they were facing several challenges, including documentation. He says most of them lack proper documents and fear harassment by police.

He says a majority of the recent migrants are living with relatives who migrated during the first Afghan war.

Ali says they face financial challenges, as there is little work available to them except selling fruits, vegetables and snacks on the roadside.

He requests the UNHCR and the Commissionerate of Afghan Refugees to support them in obtaining proper documentation to lead a free life in Pakistan. He insists that the community members are hardworking and can contribute to their livelihoods if afforded the opportunity.

An official at the Commissionerate of Afghan Refugees says that the Solution Strategy Unit (SSU) is the lead unit in planning and executing the documents renewal and information verification exercise (DRIVE).

He says that under the SSU, the DRIVE project started in 2021-2022. It has been a major undertaking requiring significant planning and coordination. The SSU has a critical role in the project’s success.

The official says that currently, the registered Afghan population residing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province consists of 679,093 Proof of Registration card holders, including 337,905 Afghan refugees living in camps and 341,188 residing in urban areas. Additionally, there are 307,647 Afghan Citizen Card holders living in various parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

He says that the SSU also handles case management at courts of law for PoCs regarding eviction from land and reunification of unaccompanied refugee children.

He says that Afghan refugees have access to all public facilities, including health and education, and their grievances are listened to and resolved by the unit.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Peshawar