Forced returns push Afghan women into extreme poverty — Global Issue
Pakistan and Iran continue to forcibly return Afghan refugees to their countries of origin, subjecting returnees to dire conditions. Courtesy of Learning Together.
  • Inter Press Service

Deportation has left these people in desperate situations, with severe economic hardship, homelessness and lack of means to earn a livelihood.

Mastra, 32, had spent her whole life with her family in Pakistan, where her husband sold leather, and they had everything they needed. But now, after being deported to Afghanistan, they have left everything behind in Pakistan and have nothing. “We have no home, no livelihood, no transportation. The Taliban have not given us any support,” Mastra said.

Seven women were interviewed for the report, three of whom had been deported from Iran and four from Pakistan, including Mastra, a mother of five.

She was born in Pakistan, where her parents emigrated from poverty-stricken Afghanistan 40 years ago in search of a better life.

Mastra and his family are among hundreds of thousands of Afghans forced to leave Pakistan after the government suddenly announced last year it would deport undocumented Afghan refugees, uprooting families who had lived in the country for decades.

Iran has also decided to repatriate Afghan refugees residing in the country.

Pakistan expelled more than 500,000 Afghans in a first phase of expulsions last November. Pakistan officials announced a second phase of expulsions in July that will affect 800,000 Afghans they claim are illegal immigrants.

All the women interviewed had no place to live, and only four managed to rent a house after several miserable days. The Afghan government has not provided them with any assistance. Of the seven women interviewed, only one received 1,800 Afghanis (equivalent to 23 euros) from the UN when she left Pakistan.

The arrival of the deportees had an immediate impact on Kabul, with rents and property prices rising dramatically.

The main reasons why many Afghans fled to neighboring Pakistan and Iran were the economic collapse after the Taliban took power, the persecution that many faced, and the severe oppression of women under the hardline Taliban regime.

But Afghans are being forcibly returned to countries where conditions have deteriorated.

Madina Azizi, a civil society activist and law graduate, fled to Afghanistan a year ago. “I was in Pakistan for over nine months,” she said. “And now I’ve been forced to return to Afghanistan and I fear for my safety. I didn’t live in Pakistan in daily fear that the Taliban would come after me,” she said.

In addition to financial worries, the women are deeply concerned about their daughters’ future in Afghanistan, where the Taliban suppresses girls’ education.

Shakiba Begum and Taj Begum were deported from Pakistan and although they are illiterate, they say their husbands are well-educated and therefore know the value of education.

“I was in Pakistan for seven years. My daughter was 16 and in grade 9. In Pakistan, my husband and I worked to build a future for our children, but now here we have nothing. We have no job, no place to live and I worry about the future of my two daughters,” Shakiba said.

Begum expresses similar fears: “I was in Pakistan for four years. I have a daughter who is in seventh grade there. My husband is a tailor. Our life was much better than it is now in Afghanistan. It has been two weeks since we came back and we still haven’t found a home. We haven’t received any help. We are at a loss as to what to do.”

Marai, Feroza and Halima, who were deported from Iran, said they left Afghanistan because they were not allowed to work after the Taliban came to power, but they all had gainful jobs in Iran: Marai worked as a cleaner with her husband, Feroza in a restaurant and Halima in a beauty salon.

“Right now we are barely surviving. Even if we manage to get food for breakfast, we struggle to have dinner. When we get enough food for one day, we have to share it for the next day. We are living in great hardship. Often we survive on just tea and bread for days,” the women said.

The women also said their daughters and sons were unemployed and had no support, and girls were not allowed to continue their education.

Due to the economic hardships and security risks faced by women forcibly returned to Afghanistan, migration experts and women’s rights activists have called on authorities in Pakistan and Iran to halt the forcible repatriation of Afghans.

© Inter Press Services (2024) — All rights reservedSource: Inter Press Service

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