In ‘mini Kabul’, Afghan refugees mark 40 years in Pakistan

It is a grim milestone for entire generations of families who fled war to create a life in Pakistan, but still face an uncertain future and no clear path to citizenship. (File/AFP)
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Updated 15 February 2020

In ‘mini Kabul’, Afghan refugees mark 40 years in Pakistan

  • Guterres will visit Islamabad for a conference
  • Pakistan is one of the largest refugee-hosting nations in the world

PESHAWAR: Afghan boys sell fresh fruit on carts, signs are written in Dari or Pashto, and restaurants in the bustling bazaar sell Afghan dishes such as Kabuli pulao.
But this “mini Kabul” is in Pakistan, which this week marks 40 years of hosting Afghan refugees.
It is a grim milestone for entire generations of families who fled war to create a life in Pakistan, but still face an uncertain future and no clear path to citizenship.
“We spent an entire life here,” says Niaz Mohammed, a 50-year-old laborer from Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province who fled to Pakistan in the 1980s.
“We had weddings and marriages here, our kids were born here ... We have jobs and work here, while there’s no peace in Afghanistan. That’s why we are happy here.”
On Sunday UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will arrive in Islamabad for a conference the United Nations says will “send a global reminder about the fate of millions of Afghans living as refugees.”
“The main challenge right now is to continue to provide support to Pakistan in hosting them ... and also give access to skills and education for the young Afghan population here,” Indrika Ratwatte, Asia director of the UN refugee agency UNHCR, told AFP on Friday.
Pakistan is one of the largest refugee-hosting nations in the world, home to an estimated 2.4 million registered and undocumented people who have fled Afghanistan, some as far back as the Soviet invasion of 1979.
Many live in camps, while others have built lives for themselves in Pakistan’s cities, paying rent and contributing to the economy.
“Mini Kabul,” the bustling Refugee Market in the northwestern city of Peshawar is home to some 5,000 shops — all run by Afghan refugees.
But their status has always been temporary, with deadlines set for them to leave Pakistan repeatedly pushed back as the conflict in Afghanistan worsens.
Many Pakistanis view them with suspicion, accusing them of spurring militancy and criminality, and calling for them to be sent home.
Even those who have spent decades in the country cannot own property or obtain identity cards, and were only recently allowed to open bank accounts.
Shortly after he came to power, Prime Minister Imran Khan vowed to grant them citizenship — but the controversial promise sparked outrage, and has not been spoken of since.
Nevertheless, many of the refugees who spoke to AFP in Peshawar recently said they love their adopted home.
Javed Khan, 28, was born in Pakistan, has married a Pakistani woman and has three sons of his own.
“I will leave only if Pakistan forces me,” he told AFP.
The situation could yet change: Afghanistan may be about to take the first step on the long road to peace.
Late Thursday the US said it has secured a seven-day reduction in violence in the country that it hopes will allow it to strike a deal with the Taliban, as President Donald Trump said a peace accord was “very close.”
Such a deal would allow Washington to begin withdrawing troops, in return for security guarantees from the Taliban and a promise to begin peace talks with the Afghan government.
However refugees were skeptical about what it would mean for them.
Mohammed Feroz, who came to Pakistan just over 40 years ago from Kabul, now runs a cloth shop in “mini Kabul.”
Sitting in a chair at the front of his shop, he said he supported the withdrawal of US troops — but was leery of US and Taliban motivations.
“They are after their interest. No one cares about us, God is the only hope for us,” he said.
Even if peace comes, most refugees said that they would prefer to stay in Pakistan, where they can support their families.
In the Khurasan refugee camp outside Peshawar an estimated 5,000 refugees live in poverty.
Yaseen Ullah, 26, collects scrap and sells it to junkyards. His family — his mother, four brothers, and four sisters — share a two-room mud house with no plumbing.
They also came from Nangarhar province across the border — and, despite the harshness of life in the camp, are not eager to go back.
“I have no job, no work in Afghanistan. So what will I do there?” Ullah asked.
Mohammad, the laborer from Nangarhar, agreed.
“I have to feed my family, my kids,” the father of seven, all born in the camp, told AFP, speaking Pashto with a Pakistani accent.
“I am saying it from my heart and I am very clear on it, that I will prefer to stay here. I do not want to return.”


Cross-class marriage urged to tackle Indonesia poverty

Updated 21 February 2020

Cross-class marriage urged to tackle Indonesia poverty

  • Country ranks sixth among those with greatest wealth inequality: Oxfam

JAKARTA: A senior Indonesian minister has suggested that poor people should marry someone of higher social status to reduce poverty.

Muhadjir Effendy, the coordinating minister for human development and cultural affairs, told a meeting on the national health program in Jakarta on Wednesday that he would ask Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi — who also attended the meeting — to issue an edict recommending the move.

Effendy said that the edict could prevent the emergence of “new poor households” and provide Indonesia’s majority Muslim community with a new interpretation of the principle that one should marry a person with a compatible socioeconomic background for the sake of equivalence (kaf’ah) between prospective spouses.

The principle, he said, makes poor people marry among themselves and “automatically give birth to a new poor household.”

The minister on Thursday clarified that his intention with the “intermezzo” statement was to kick-start a social movement to break the cycle of poverty in Indonesia.

Indonesia’s poverty rate declined to below 10 percent for the first time in the country’s history, in September 2019, according to the latest data available from the Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS).

The BPS sets the poverty line at $32.13 per person per month, or an average of $1.07 per day.


President Joko Widodo frequently requests his ministers to come up with ideas to accelerate the anti-poverty programs and close the country’s income inequality gap.

President Joko Widodo frequently requests his ministers to come up with ideas to accelerate the implementation of poverty alleviation programs and close the country’s income inequality gap, which has widened over the past 20 years.

In September, the level of inequality in Indonesia measured by the Gini coefficient stood at 0.380, improving by 0.004 points from the previous year, according to the BPS. The index ranges from 0 to 1, with 0 representing perfect equality and 1 representing perfect inequality.

An Oxfam report in 2017 showed that in the past two decades, the gap between the richest and the rest of the population in Indonesia had grown faster than in any other country in Southeast Asia. Indonesia is ranked sixth among the countries with greatest wealth inequality, according to the UK-based NGO.

Oxfam said that the four richest men in Indonesia have more wealth than the poorest 100 million people. Inequality is slowing down poverty reduction, dampening economic growth and threatening social cohesion, it said.

However, economists said that suggesting the poor pursue a Cinderella story to graduate from their low-socioeconomic status was not the solution that Indonesia needed to reduce poverty and tackle income inequality.

“How would the state manage such domestic affairs? Even parents could not choose for their children,” Enny Sri Hartati, a senior researcher at the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (Indef), told Arab News on Thursday.

Indef Deputy Director Eko Listiyanto said that there was no guarantee that Effendy’s proposal, if approved, would be effective in tackling poverty. “There is no urgency for such an edict . . . the root of the problem lies with the issuance of economic policies that widen inequality as they only benefit a small group in the society,” he said.

Listiyanto said that the government was unable to drive upward mobility as the majority of its policies revolved around populism rather than empowerment. He called on the government to stop making regulations that served only oligarchs.

“It would be better to improve the national education system to prepare the next generation for their economic leap. That move would be far more sustainable compared with issuing the marriage edict,” he said.

Pieter Abdullah Redjalam, research director of the Center of Reform on Economics (CORE) Indonesia, said that Effendy’s idea of a cross-class marriage edict showed that he was out of touch with reality.

“He seems to forget that there is a very wide gap between the poor and the rich,” Redjalam said. “The poor are generally trapped in the poverty cycle. They cannot go to school, so they stay poor.”

Redjalam echoed Listiyanto’s recommendation of opening access to and improving the quality of Indonesia’s education system to reduce poverty in the long term. “It is a shame if the former education minister does not understand that,” he said, referring to Effendy.