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When home is a foreign country

Published on Tuesday 25 July 2017

Thousands of Afghan families that had sought refuge in Pakistan or Iran are now in the process of a return to their country of origin. Gulali, 31, is now back in her homeland, but life is tough for a single mother of two.

As of April 2017, 155,000 undocumented Afghan refugees have returned to their homeland from Pakistan and Iran . Added to the more than 700,000 who had returned in 2016, these people are having to recreate a new life with little support.

“In Pakistan, life was simple”

“I was living with my family in Wardak province when the Taliban took control of the Hazarajat region in 1998. Like the other families, we were afraid so we decided to leave our home. Some went to Iran. Others, like me, sought refuge in Pakistan. Over there, we use to live in Haji camp, near Peshawar”, she remembers. “Life was simple. I found a job very quickly, I used to work in carpet weaving… But most of all, there were no Taliban.”

Gulali afghan returnee undocumented

“I was sad to come back to Afghanistan”

Unfortunately, Gulali’s life changed only two years after her marriage. Abandoned by her husband, she ended up alone with her two children. Soon after, the Pakistani government started to toughen its migration policy toward undocumented Afghan refugees. “Families with whom I was living started to leave the area so I decided to follow them, she explains. I first lived with my family in Kabul for a few months. But problems occurred. Some were sick and most of all, we couldn’t provide for our needs in the capital anymore. So I decided to join my husband’s family in Yakawlang a district of Bamyan province where I still live. I was sad to return to Afghanistan. Back when I lived in Pakistan I had a job. Now I’m living alone and there is no job. When I left, I was hoping for better living conditions but I only met with misery.”

“No money to buy food”

Gulali’s first winter when she was back in Afghanistan was very tough even with the help of her neighbours. “They really helped us. But it wasn’t enough. I remember one night, there was no one in the compound and I was sick and cold but I had no money to buy medication nor food. I screamed and cried all night out of despair but no one came”, she tells, tearfully.

Supporting the most vulnerable

After her extremely vulnerable situation was referred to SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL, she received an emergency cash assistance of 20,000 Afghani (250 €) to cover her family’s needs in terms of food, basic household items, and other necessary costs. “I bought food, coal and wood… I kept 1,500 Afghani with me and sent the rest to my mother in Kabul because it is not safe to keep it here with me”, she explains. Because the land where she used to live was sold to a real estate agency, Gulali and her children were expelled from the room they were living in. She found another room: the rent is 2,000 AFN, which she pays with the money provided by SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL.

“I have nothing to lose”

Soon, Gulali will run out of money. Her situation will become even tougher. Living alone as a woman is very badly perceived in Afghanistan, which makes the young mother’s situation dangerous for her safety. Gulali’s dire living conditions were considered a protection concern. She will receive a specific Individual Protection Assistance (IPA) from SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL*. When asked about her future, Gulali smiles but her eyes are sad. “I have nothing to lose so why should I be afraid?”

* This aid is part of the Emergency Response Mechanism funded by ECHO, the Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Office of the European Union.

 

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