Afghan refugees hope peace talks will finally take them ‘home’

Muhammad Agha Ishaqzai, right, and other Afghan elders at the New Saranan refugee camp in Balochistan, 40 kilometers northwest of the provincial capital of Quetta. (AN photo)
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Updated 15 September 2020

Afghan refugees hope peace talks will finally take them ‘home’

  • Afghan refugees hope peace talks will finally take them ‘home’

KARACHI: With talks to end decades of armed conflict in Afghanistan currently underway in Doha, refugees at the New Saranan camp in Pakistan’s Balochistan province gathered on Sunday to discuss the repatriation process for nearly 5,000 displaced Afghan families.

Intra-Afghan talks between President Ashraf Ghani’s government and the Taliban began on Saturday and are expected to yield a permanent cease-fire and a power-sharing arrangement.

“If the talks are successful, we will not care if it’s day or night, we will just embark on our journey,” Muhammad Agha Ishaqzai, an Afghan elder who left his home in Sar Pul province more than 30 years ago, told Arab News. “We are thirsty for our homeland like a person who has fasted during all hot summer days, waiting for a glass of water.”

The talks have raised hopes among Afghans scattered around the world including the 1.4 million who are registered as refugees in Pakistan, most of whom live in camps and urban centers of provinces bordering Afghanistan.

“We are watching the news and hope that Afghans will see peace after 40 years,” Zahir Pashtun, a youth activist who attended the Sunday meeting, told Arab News. “We Afghans have seen UN-brokered talks between the mujahideen and Najibullah,” he said, referring to the president of Afghanistan who held office from 1987 to 1992, shortly after which the mujahideen took over Kabul following the Afghan-Soviet war from 1979 to 1989.

He added that while all the talks so far, including those between the mujahideen and Taliban, had failed, Afghans were still hopeful.

At least three things should happen in order for Afghans to be repatriated, Pahstun said. “There should be an inclusive Afghan government, having representation of all ethnicities and sects. Ethnic divides should be removed, and lands and properties that refugees had left behind should be recovered so that they may start a new life.”

For many, however, returning home will not be easy.

“This has been the main agenda of our discussions now, and when I ask people if they will return, the majority say they have no reason to go back, even if the talks succeed,” Syed Mustafa, a teacher and a community elder in the refugee-dominated Al-Asif area of Karachi, told Arab News. 

“A majority of over 60,000 refugees living in Sindh province were born and raised here. When they go back to the land of their parents, they would feel like in a strangers’ land. Those who had gone there in the recent past have come back.”

“I’m Afghan, but my wife and children all were born here, and for them, Pakistan is home,” Naemullah Rahimi, a vendor in Al-Asif, told Arab News.

Muneeba Hayatullah, an Afghan widow living in Karachi’s Metroville area whose daughter recently married, said the peace talks made her happy regardless of what the future brought for her.

“I want to see a peaceful Afghanistan, not one which is a graveyard,” she said. “But I don’t know if I will go back.”


Migrants hoping to reach EU stranded in Bosnian woods as cold sets in

Updated 30 September 2020

Migrants hoping to reach EU stranded in Bosnian woods as cold sets in

  • As the EU attempts to overhaul its defunct migration policies, thousands of people fleeing Asia, the Middle East and Africa are stranded on the fringe of the wealthy bloc
  • In ethnically-divided Bosnia, the Serb and Croat-dominated regions refuse to accept migrants, and so they concentrate in the Bosniak-dominated Sarajevo and Krajina

VELIKA KLADUSA, Bosnia: Hundreds of migrants hoping to reach the European Union are sheltering in forests and ruined former factory buildings near Bosnia’s border with Croatia, with the cold setting in and conditions becoming more miserable.
On a cold Wednesday morning, migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Morocco and Algiers shivered in their makeshift tent camp high in the woods above the town of Velika Kladusa, built of cardboard and tree branches and covered with nylon sheets.
Some set up fires to warm up and cook modest meals. Others washed themselves and their clothes in a freezing forest stream, and brushed their teeth with ashes.
As the EU attempts to overhaul its defunct migration policies, thousands of people fleeing Asia, the Middle East and Africa are stranded on the fringe of the wealthy bloc, trying and often failing to enter and continue their journey.
Migrants and refugees mostly bypassed impoverished Bosnia during their mass movements across the Balkans in 2015-2016, but in recent years the country has become a key transit route after EU countries closed their borders to new arrivals.
“[There are] many problems here,” said Mahmood Abal from Bangladesh. “No rooms, no water, no medical facilities, no sanitation.”
He is one of about 500 men who were turned away from the Bosnian towns of Bihac and Velika Kladusa. Authorities are refusing to host large groups of migrants any longer and are preparing to close down some reception centers.
Sympathetic at first to the plight of the migrants, similar to their own during the war in the 1990s when they were forced to flee, Bosnians in the Krajina border region have become anxious, demanding that other regions share the burden.
But in ethnically-divided Bosnia, the Serb and Croat-dominated regions refuse to accept migrants, and so they concentrate in the Bosniak-dominated Sarajevo and Krajina.
Most migrants are smuggled to Bosnia in rubber boats over the Drina River, the natural border with Serbia, said Azur Sljivic, a Bosnian border police officer.
“Many of them drown because the Drina River is unpredictable, full of whirlpools,” Sljivic told Reuters while patrolling along the border in the eastern town of Zvornik.
Yet they do not give up.
On Tuesday night, about 50 migrants left their Bosnian forest tents to try cross the Croatian border.
“Italy, see you soon!,” one of them shouted cheerfully.