Returning Afghan refugees vow to reconstruct homeland

By Ashfaq Yusufzai

Trucks loaded with the luggage of Afghan refugees travel along Grand Trunk Road October 7, destined for Afghanistan. UNHCR says more than 200,000 Afghans have returned under its voluntary repatriation programme since January 2016. [Ashfaq Yusufzai]

Trucks loaded with the luggage of Afghan refugees travel along Grand Trunk Road October 7, destined for Afghanistan. UNHCR says more than 200,000 Afghans have returned under its voluntary repatriation programme since January 2016. [Ashfaq Yusufzai]

PESHAWAR -- Afghan refugees returning to their homeland from Pakistan under a voluntary repatriation programme say they want to play role in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan.

As of the end of September, more than 190,000 registered Afghans and another 160,000 undocumented Afghans have voluntarily repatriated from Pakistan, according to Pakistan's Minister for States and Frontier Regions Lt. Gen. (ret.) Abdul Qadir Baloch.

Most of refugees who spoke with Salaam Times said the defeat of militants back home was the main reason for their return, while at the same time they thanked Pakistan for its many years of hospitality.

Establishing peace and prosperity

"We want to take part in the development of our militancy-harmed country and establish peace and live with prosperity," said Rafique Ahmed, an Afghan goldsmith residing in Peshawar.

"We have decided to leave Pakistan after 30 years to play a role in developing our own country where the security forces are busy in the battle against Taliban militants," he told Salaam Times.

Ahmed, 62, said he arrived in Pakistan in 1979 after his country was invaded and the security situation devolved into chaos and lawlessness.

But now, he said, the situation is good.

"In the past few years, there has been a marked improvement and the people want to start their businesses," he said, adding that the Afghan people vehemently condemn the militants for forcing them to stay outside their country for so long.

Muhammad Jamil, a grain seller in Mardan, said he arrived in Pakistan 20 years ago due to the terrorism unleashed by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Jamil is one of more than 200,000 Afghans refugees returning home this year under the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) voluntary repatriation programme.

"We are going back to our ancestral Kabul city, where we have already rented a shop," he told Salaam Times. "We are shifting our wealth to take part in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of our country."

Ghareeb Gul, a 25-year-old vegetable vendor in Peshawar, said he was born in Pakistan and has never been to his ancestral Afghanistan.

"I want to see my own country and work there for the rest of my life," he told Salaam Times. "My parents are very happy to live there permanently."

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan have been hit hard by militancy, he said, but now peace is returning and the people should get ready to work for development.

Noor Ghulam, an Afghan who lives in a mud house in Jalozai Refugee Camp near Peshawar, said he has been in touch with relatives in Jalalabad who told him the security situation is now normal.

"There is tangible improvement in the law and order situation, and we want to go back and live with our people," he told Salaam Times.

"We give full marks to our army and international security forces for defeating the militants and making the country a livable place," he said.

People Ghulam knows who have already returned to Afghanistan are extremely happy, he said. "Due to this, we have also decided to proceed and join our relatives and friends there."

Education, jobs to wipe out terrorism

The Afghan people have rendered massive sacrifices for peace and finally militancy has declined in their country, said Peshawar-based security analyst Khadim Hussain.

For more than three decades, Afghans have been living in a state of helplessness throughout the world only because of violence at home, he said.

"Afghans have paid a big price for peace but their sacrifices have borne fruit and now they are on the way back to their country," he told Salaam Times.

In the next phase, there is a need to establish schools, hospitals and other facilities for the refugees returning from Pakistan, Iran and other countries, Hussain said.

"Terrorism can be wiped out permanently through education and creating a better environment for work," he said.

Shahi Muhammad, a schoolteacher in Peshawar, said he is relocating to Herat Province, where he will reunite with his extended family after 10 years in Pakistan.

"I came to Peshawar with my seven-member family and started teaching here in an Afghan school," he told Salaam Times. "I have resigned from my job and will join the same profession in Herat Province of Afghanistan when I get back."

There are several schools in Herat where teachers are desperately needed, he said. "Most of my colleagues in Peshawar have also opted to shift to Afghanistan and apply their experience to promote education there."

"Afghan children have missed schools due to the Taliban’s known opposition to education, especially for women," he said. "Life will not be easy initially but will improve with passage of time."

Refugees rebuilding Afghanistan

Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal urged refugees to return to their homeland despite the challenges and to join the nation-building process.

"The voluntary return of the refugees demonstrates their confidence in the efforts of the national unity government," Zakhilwal said September 28 during a visit to UNHCR's repatriation centre at Azakhel Refugee Camp in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

"There are many challenges but the returning refugees will help in the restoration of peace and rebuilding of Afghanistan," he said.

UNHCR provides monetary assistance to Afghan refugees who participate in the voluntary repatriation programme. In June, UNHCR doubled the grant from US $200 to US $400 per person.

Gul Sattar, an Afghan refugee residing in Pakistan for the past 30 years with his family of eight, recently registered at the new repatriation centre to return to Afghanistan.

"Now, we are on the way back to our country," he told Salaam Times. "Forty other Afghans also go back in the same convoy with us."

Kabul University professor Muhammad Raees said that militancy has been replaced by democracy in Afghanistan.

"There have been three elections in the past 15 years and there is no reason for Afghans to stay outside their country," he told Salaam Times, urging refugees to return.

"Without the reconstruction process, we cannot establish durable peace and people have realised that they should take part in the rebuilding of Afghanistan," he said.

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it was very good.


We, the refugee Afghans want to rebuild our country ourselves and to go to our country as soon possible.