Thousands of Afghans, who have sought asylum in New Delhi owing to the internal disturbances in Afghanistan, are aggrieved over the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ “refusal” to resettle them.
Zubaida (name changed), a 40-year-old woman who fled to India in 2012 with her six children after the Taliban killed her husband, says her woes are yet to end.
“Soon after coming here, I ran out of money and I did not know how to support my children. We went to the UNHCR for help, but they refused to provide us with any financial assistance. My two sons, aged 15 and 17 years, started working in medical shops here to support the family. The UN only provided us with a blue card (a refugee card that would prevent their deportation),” she said.
Many Afghans are charged exorbitant rent by their landlords. “The landlord charges us at least 30% more than what he charges Indians. We have requested the UNHCR and the Afghanistan Consulate General to help us but nothing seems to have happened,” added Zubaida.
Twenty-year-old Sabir, who runs a travel agency in Bhogal, fled from Kabul in 2013. He said ruefully, “I wanted to become a doctor, but fate had turned me into a shopkeeper who books tickets. I cannot even get a good job, as we have no legal documents apart from our refugee card issued by the UNHCR. All formal sectors refuse to hire us as we are refugees.”
The Afghans allege that they have been singled out by the UNHCR, which has meted out better treatment to refugees from Somalia, Myanmar, Iran and Iraq.
“Since 2014, Afghans are also being denied refugee cards, barring a few cases,” said Roya (name changed).
Habib, who has been camping outside the UNHCR’s office in New Delhi with his wife for more than 10 months demanding resettlement, said the commission has turned a deaf ear to his demand. “We are Afghan Christians and for us Afghanistan is a living hell. I somehow fled to India with my wife about six years ago, but I have not got any assistance from the UNHCR,” said Habib.
The UNHCR maintains that most refugees are able to support themselves. The UNHCR also does livelihood support activities through NGOs such as ACCESS and Anudip Foundation, which includes vocational training, counselling, IT training for job placements. Another NGO, BOSCO, facilitates their access to government health care and education services along with providing bridge classes and language training.
But the Afghans say that these facilities have been of little help to them. “These organisations teach us the basics of computer and web designing along with language classes but that does not help us secure jobs. They had placed a few of us in some companies but we were either not paid our salaries or asked to resign a few months later, due to lack of identification”
Shuchita Mehta, spokesperson, UNHCR, India, said, “The UNHCR conducts individual interviews to determine refugee status keeping in mind the refugee legal framework as articulated in the 1951 Refugee Convention. In very limited circumstances and for very exceptional cases with serious protection needs, the UNHCR helps refugees resettle to a third country. The vulnerable Afghan refugees have also been resettled to a third country.”
According to data, there are 27,508 refugees and 3,451 asylum seekers registered with UNHCR India at the end of February 2016. Out of these, 10,241 refugees and 3,451 asylum seekers are from Afghanistan. The UNHCR, India has also resettled less than 1% of the total refugees in India.