No Homeland, No Human Rights: Lives of Afghan Refugees in India

Human Rights Day: Without work, education or home to stay, many Afghan refugees are struggling to survive in India.

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Camera: Abhishek Ranjan
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“Aren’t we humans? We came to India under the international law, so that there is one more chance of saving our lives. And the chance is the UNHCR office in Delhi. If they don’t look after us, where will we go?”
Nisar Ahmed Sherzai, Afghan Civil Activist & Refugee

Nisar Ahmed and his family left their home, in Afghanistan, and escaped to India in February 2016. The Taliban wanted him to carry arms and ammunitions hidden in his furniture consignment from Pakistan to Afghanistan.

He refused, and soon after was being targeted and threatened by the Taliban.

First, Sherzai’s son was kidnapped and beaten up brutally, then his car was stopped and he was looted and beaten up. Sherzai complained to the authorities but no one helped.


That’s when he decided to take refuge in India. Little did he know that new troubles awaited him in a foreign country.

For the past few years, his case is pending at the UNHCR. He alleges that the UNHCR office in Delhi is not fulfilling their responsibilities and looking after Afghan refugees. Especially with their years-long process of issuing refugee cards or transferring them to another country.

“Refugees from Afghanistan first go to the UNHCR office. They do the documentation and ask them to come after two years for their first interview. With a visa valid for one or three months, he has to now wait for two years for his first interview. Two years go by and he goes for his first interview. They stamp the papers again and ask them to come after six months. This way, many years go by. Their kids cannot go to school, and there are no medical arrangements. There is no respect for human rights here.”
Nisar Ahmed Sherzai, Afghan Civil Activist & Refugee

Many other Afghan refugees in India are going through the same ordeal.

India’s lack of a formal legal framework has allowed it to follow an ad hoc policy on refugees.
  • India is not a party to the 1951 refugee convention or its 1967 protocol.
  • It does not have a national refugee protection framework.
  • GOI deals differently with different refugee groups. Tibetan and Sri Lankan refugees are protected by the Government of India.

Most Afghans flee to Pakistan and Iran. Due to proximity and historical ties, many Afghans also choose to take refuge in India.

By the end of 2019, UNHCR registered 40,000 refugees and asylum-seekers in India. Afghans comprise 27 percent of the group – the second-largest community.

Eleven thousand officially registered Afghan refugees are living in India, excluding asylum-seekers and those who are not yet registered, which takes the actual number much higher. Most of them are settled in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar which is also known as ‘Mini Kabul’. Many Afghans here run grocery stores, travel agencies and restaurants.

Jafar Ali runs a small makeshift stall called ‘Aghani Burger’. He came from Kabul three years ago and belongs to the Hazara ethnic group of Afghanistan.

Predominantly Shia, Hazaras are a minority in the Sunni majority country. Hazaras have historically faced discrimination and persecution both at the hands of the Taliban and the Afghan governments.

Hazaras got the full right to Afghan citizenship only in 2004. Even today, Hazaras continue to face persecution in their homeland.

A lot of people of the Hazara community have been killed in Afghanistan. I came to India to save my family. My father and brother were killed in a suicide bombing.
Jafar Ali, Afghan Refugee

Jafar Ali’s case is pending at UNHCR. Life is not easy in India but Jafar is grateful to be alive. He says that in India he can work till late in the night without fear of kidnapping and bombings.

Just like Jafar, Zmarai Qaderi fled to India with his wife and five kids, escaping the threats of the Taliban.

Zmarai used to work at Supreme food service which provides logistic support to the US Department Of Defence and ISAF/NATO soldiers. Zmarai was a cargo handler at the airport. He says Taliban threatened to kill him after he refused to give them information about the whereabouts of the US soldiers at the airport.

If I gave them the information, the soldiers would have killed me. If I didn’t, then the Taliban would have shot me.
Zmarai Qaderi, Afghan Refugee

Fearing Taliban, Zmarai’s family had to keep changing their address every few months. They finally fled to India in December 2016.

Initially, he got a temporary refugee card from UNHCR but after two years, his application was rejected.

He says the UNHCR didn’t believe that his family faced any danger or persecution in Afghanistan.


An expired refugee card is all they are left with. Zmarai and his family are living without identity in India which has caused a lot of problems for them.

I don’t have papers. No one gives us a flat on rent. To get my children enrolled in a school, I need papers. If someone falls ill and we have to go to the hospital, even for that we need papers. I don’t have money because I can’t even work.
Zmarai Qaderi, Afghan Refugee

Zmarai’s 18-year-old son cannot work, his kids cannot study. The situation is such that when his 9-year-old son was bitten by a dog, they had to run pillar to post for his treatment as doctors refused to treat without identity proof or UNHCR card.
Zmarai’s wife, Aziza, is currently on sleeping pills. Triggered by the circumstances, she was also diagnosed with depression.

The lives of my kids are destroyed. It is the same here as it was in Afghanistan. My daughter keeps asking, ‘What will happen to us, mom? All kids go to school, why don’t we go?’
Aziza Qaderi, Afghan Refugee

People who work with the US in Afghanistan are in the Taliban’s line of fire. Majority of them are translators.

Over 300 translators and their families were killed while serving the US Army. Many live in hiding because of the threats from Taliban.

Faisal worked as an interpreter with the US Army for seven years. As the US troops started to leave, the Taliban took over their spaces, gathered information about the people who worked with the US forces and in an orchestrated manner, started targeting them.

Many translators have been killed. Many people who have worked with the US, wherever they were found, Taliban used to just slit their throats, no questions asked.
Faisal, Afghan Refugee

Faisal left Afghanistan in 2015 with his wife and two kids but the Taliban followed him all the way to India. Initially, everything was going fine for him, he even got a job at a dispensary. Two years later, his wife’s brother, who is related to Taliban, visited them with the motive of taking them back. When Faisal refused, he took away his wife and kids in his absence.

I think he went to the UNHCR office and bribed them. Gave them money or… I don’t know what. One day, when I returned home after my job at a hospital, my wife and kids were not at home.
Faisal, Afghan Refugee

Faisal says his wife and child were sent back to Afghanistan without his knowledge.

He alleges that when he went to the UNHCR office to enquire about his family, the translator and officer misbehaved with him. Three days after this incident, he was sent a rejection letter.

Now I have a passport, visa expired four years ago, I don’t have the refugee card. They have ruined my life, snatched away my kids, my house and after that they rejected me. United Nation speaks of spreading humanity all over the world. What kind of humanity is this?
Faisal, Afghan Refugee

These refugees are among the 2.7 million people who have fled Afghanistan. Afghan refugees make the second-largest refugee population in the world.

Afghanistan is in a state of turmoil and war for decades and all these people have tried to do is escape violence and death so they have a chance at life.
As activist Nisar Ahmed Shirzai says,
We are also humans.
We had some issues, some problems.
No one leaves their home willingly

UNHCR has not responded to The Quint’s query on all of these cases. Their response will be added to the story as and when they do.

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Topics:  India   Afghanistan   Afghan 

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