Afghan refugees in India: The nowhere people

Given their situation, the only reason most Afghan refugees are staying on in India is to get a chance to go to any European country, writes Khatima Emami for South Asia Monitor

Khatima Emami Jan 22, 2018
Afghan refugees in India (Photo: The diplomat)

The growing presence of Afghan refugees in Lajpat Nagar and Bhogal areas of New Delhi is changing the demographic trend and the socio-economic structure of this part of the Indian capital. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan people started leaving the country and sought refuge in different countries including India. Most of these refugees were Sikh Afghans who fled in droves when the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan.

After the US war against terror on Afghanistan in 2001 there has been a continuous influx of refugees to India. Most of those who fled the country and came to settle in New Delhi were working for the United Nations and the Afghan government and earning adequately, but they were threatened by the Taliban that they would be killed as they were not pure Muslims, being part of the U.S - led government.

These Afghan refugees are facing economic problems, making it difficult for them to survive. The government of Afghanistan has not come forward to properly help these people. Many of these people are not well educated or skilled and are finding it difficult to earn and live adequately, or get accommodation, given the high rentals.

Most of the refugees in the Indian capital are in there 20s or 30s, having migrated with their families, and are struggling to cope. Some have opened small eateries where their compatriots live and provide staples like Afghani burgers and Afghani naan, but general conditions are not good and dissatisfaction is brewing.

However, they still prefer the hard economic situation they face than the lack of security for life in Afghanistan. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is not really helping them acquire skills or training and most refuges cope on their own resources. The formal UNHCR website claims it is running training workshops for refugees and assigns jobs after training them.

Given their difficult economic condition, the children of refugees are not getting education as they cannot pay the fees and other expenses. Given their situation, the only reason most Afghan refugees are staying on in India is to get a chance to go to any European country.

The government of India is not responsible for the Afghan refugees after having registered them with the UNHCR. There has been little effort to alleviate their problems, so basically the refugees are not happy with the Afghan and Indian governments, and the UNHCR.

Unless there is security in Afghanistan which can guarantee their life, they will not even think of going back to Afghanistan. As an Afghan refugee said, “We are forced to leave our country and are seeking to go to Europe. In this long way we are facing lots of problems and difficulties but still for our life’s security we are accepting all this.”  Their ultimate goal is to settle in any European country.

They hope the Indian government will provide them job opportunities, education for their kids, medical facilities and so on, but they long to settle in Europe where, however, strict visa rules are a major deterrent.

(The author is doing a Masters in Sociology at South Asian University, New Delhi.)

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