When quest for peaceful lives brought them here
Once fighting the Taliban on the rugged hills of Afghanistan and now a refugee in Pakistan working as a human rights activist, Khair Mohammad’s tale is one of enormous pain and struggle.
Speaking to The News in connection with the World Refugee Day that falls on June 20, Khair Mohammad said he had left Kundouz, the capital city of the Kundouz province in northern Afghanistan in 1997.
He was studying in class 9th and had to appear in the annual examinations for the secondary school certificate, when most of the Kundouz province fell to the Taliban, who had challenged the government and were trying to establish their writ in the country. The government started recruiting youngsters to fight against the Taliban. “We were forced by the Afghanistan government to join the military and fight the Taliban. Of course, we had no idea how to combat trained Taliban militants,” Khair Mohammad said.
“At the time and under the circumstances, we couldn’t think freely and independently. Then we fled to another Kabul as we were pushed into a bloody war against the Taliban without our consent.”
He said the journey to Kabul was an excoriating one. “We weren’t allowed to use highways and roads. We had to walk from one province to another along with women, children and the elderly to live a life that we wanted.”
Many children died on the way and were buried wherever they passed away.
“No one can even imagine the pain we felt that time. We ran out of food and water and many died because of thirst. At one stage, I had lost all hope and through the journey was pointless.”
After reaching Pakistan, Khair Mohammad started working as a labourer at a matches factory. “I worked there for sometime as I needed money to support my family. But I had already started planning to resume my studies.”
After a long struggle, he finally managed to continue his education free of charge at an Afghan school in Gadap Town. Later, he started taking courses at an English learning centre. After completing the course, I started teaching English to his Afghan friends and colleagues.
In 2005, he start working on a project funded by the UNHCR named “Census of Afghan Refugees in Pakistan”.
“I worked with enthusiastically and served my community as much as I could. I also worked on different education projects of for Afghan refugees.”
Afterwards, he joined the Society for Human Rights and Prisoner’s Aid. “Nothing is impossible in the world. The way I reinvented my life is an example that.”
Shah Mohammad, another Afghan refugee, too had a painful story to tell.
“After the invasion of the Soviet Union in December 1979, my father along with 40 families from our village escaped to Pakistan. The journey was full of hardships,” he said.
“There was no transportation to travel freely amid the Russian army and the pro-Russian Afghans. We used donkeys and horses but also had to face air attacks. Pregnant women delivered their babies while immigrating and I am one of them.”
After entering Pakistan, his family’s first stop was at the Saranan Camp near Chaman. “We stayed there for two years and then moved to Karachi and started our lives as Afghan refugees at camp in Gadap,” he said.
He also praised the Pakistani government for welcoming the refugees and its hospitality.
Shah Mohammad said after matriculation, he joined a UNHCR team for the registration of Afghan refugees.
In 2007, he met Dr Hanne Glodny, a German woman who was helping the refugees.
“I was very impressed by her and joined her school in the Gadap for Afghan refugees. The school provides free books and stationery to all students. Even free medicines are also provided to sick students. Now I am working as the principal of the Dr Hanne Glodny Afghan School.”
UNHCR official Bilal Agha said that the refugee challenge in the 21st century was rapidly changing.
“People are forced to flee their homes for increasingly complicated and interlinked reasons. Some 40 million people worldwide are already uprooted by violence and persecution, and it is likely that the future will see more people on the run as a growing number of push factors compound one another to create conditions for further forced displacement,” he said.
“Today, people do not just flee persecution and war but also injustice, exclusion, environmental pressures, competition for scarce resources and all the miserable human consequences of dysfunctional states.”
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