Why are Afghan refugees forced to leave Tajikistan?

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A group of Afghan refugees that arrived in Tajikistan amid Taliban fear found themselves forced to return to Afghanistan. They say their efforts to leave for a third country have not yielded results, and, according to them, it is very difficult to find good job and income in Tajikistan. Human rights activists consider revenge by the Taliban against refugees quite likely, and advise them to refrain from returning to their country.

No desire to leave, no place to stay

Orash Oriyan arrived with his wife and daughter 9 months ago on the eve of the overthrow of Afghanistan's former government. He had a shop in Kabul and barely escaped when it was blown up, he said.

29-year-old Orash Oriyan intended to stay in Tajikistan for some time, and then, after paperwork, go to Canada. To carry out this plan, he had two ways: either five people from Canada had to guarantee that they would bear the costs for Orash Oriyan and his family, or refugee had to have a minimum of $16 thousand in his bank account so that upon arrival in Canada he would not become a burden for the state.

“We were unable to pay the guarantee fee as it was overwhelming for our family. Therefore, we wanted to go to Canada by invitation of our relatives. However, this did not succeed either. Canada refused our request,” - he says.

Picture of asylum seekers

According to Orash Oriyan, after rejecting his request from Canada, he tried to leave for the United States of America, but the embassy told him that now they don't have the valid migration program. Our interlocutor noted that at the moment Afghan refugees also cannot obtain a visa from the EU member states.

Apart from all these problems, the life of Orash Oriyan is not developing in the best way in Tajikistan too. He says that before arriving in Tajikistan, he rented out his house, due to which $200 was sent to him every month. However, this amount was not enough to rent house in Tajikistan and provide the family of three. This refugee made all attempts to get a job in Tajikistan. Besides working in a car wash he could not find anything else. Here he earned only 40-70 somoni a day, that, according to Oriyan, was not enough. In addition he noted that he received aid neither from Tajikistan nor from UN Commissioner for Refugees.

Orash Oriyan says that despite the fact that he is not disposed to come back to his homeland, and that even his relatives in Afghanistan don't allow him to come back, he has no choice but to go to his homeland. "There is fear, however, remembering 38-39 million people living in Afghanistan, we say to ourselves: what will happen to them will happen also to us. Then come what may" - Afghan refugee says with pain.

"Taliban doesn't deal with ordinary residents"

The exact number of Afghan refugees who returned to Afghanistan after Taliban came to power in the summer of 2021 remains unknown. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan and representative office of the UN Commissioner for Refugees didn’t provide answers to our written questions.

As reported by Abdumusavvir Bahoduri, head of «Oriyono" Afghan refugee mission in Tajikistan, after Taliban came to power, "almost 30-35 families from Tajikistan came back to Afghanistan." According to Bahoduri, they didn't have refugee cards.

"As far as we know, Taliban doesn’t deal with them. They mainly create problems for those who worked in the structures of the former government, in particular the security forces. As for those who worked in the former government, as well as cultural figures, they don't intend to return to Afghanistan. They are very afraid of Taliban's retaliation," says "Oriyono" mission head.

However, some human rights activists consider it undesirable for Afghans to return to their homeland, given the devastating actions of the Taliban.

Abdumusavvir Bahoduri

According to Marzia Bobokarkhel, the women's rights activist and former judge in Afghanistan, Taliban threaten to haunts not only members of the cultural community and representatives of former authorities, but also ordinary citizens.

"I am from Pashtun family, but my heart breaks from the fact that the Panjsher residents and Khazars are killed under various pretexts. Taliban don't take responsibility for this, and argue that in this case there is personal enmity and hostility. Why was this feud not during the reign of Ashraf Ghani? 14-year-old girls become shahids, female police officers are killed, and judges’ houses are attacked. Think for yourself, how, under such conditions person can have the courage to come back to Afghanistan? "- asks Afghan women's rights activist.

Taliban group, which re-came to power last August, issued the general amnesty and said it would not harm the staff, military or activists of the former government. However, in the less than 8 months of Taliban rule, more and more reports of the execution and disappearance of employees or military personnel of the former government spread. According to UN report, from August 15 to January of this year, Taliban or their henchmen killed more than 100 officials and military workers of the former government.

“Fake information that leads refugees to hassle”

According to various statistics, almost two million Tajik citizens are forced to go abroad in search of work. Based on this, most of refugees who spoke with us said that their purpose of arrival in Tajikistan was not to permanently reside in this country and conduct activities, but to be able to go to the third country in transit. According to some human rights activists, some of refugees, believing these false promises, arrived in Tajikistan, because of which they faced certain obstacles.

According to Shirinbek Davlatshoev, executive head of the "Human and Justice" organization who deals with refugees, mostly those refugees return to Afghanistan, who came to Tajikistan fraudulently.

Picture of Afghan refugees in Tajikistan

"Fake information is widely disseminated in Afghanistan that if you come to Tajikistan, you will be placed in camps, given money, and besides, there is a developed program for sending refugees to third countries, I don't know who exactly spreads such information, and who benefits. When they come and see that none of this is in Tajikistan, they decide to go back to Afghanistan," - he says.

On March 18 of this year, in a conversation with Filippo Grandi - UN High Commissioner for Refugees, refugees living in Vahdat Township raised the issue of sending them to third countries. They told Grundy that there is no work in Tajikistan, for this reason they want the UN to assist in sending them to third countries.

UN representative did not make specific promises regarding sending of Afghan refugees from Tajikistan to other countries. He only said that negotiations are underway with countries hosting migrants, including Canada, to increase the number of refugees admitted. According to Filippo Grandi, the best option at the moment would be the return of Afghans to their country, "but this is not entirely possible."

Nowadays, other refugees like Orash Oriyan are also returning to Afghanistan at their own peril and risk, but at the same time, they save hope for the best. If, on the one hand, they are afraid of the unknown of how Taliban will deal with refugees, on the other hand, they have the hope that they will finally get rid of wandering and can find a decent life in their homeland.

According to authorities, 15 thousand Afghans have been granted asylum in Tajikistan to date.

Source: Asia-Plus