By: Sherin Yousfi
Fatima sold her family’s belongings at half price following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. She and her family needed the money to flee the country. She feared the Taliban might come after her husband who was a soldier in the former government.
The family took a huge risk, entered Iran illegally with the help of smugglers, fleeing for safety and in the hope of a better life. But they couldn’t live in Iran for long due to what Fatima called the “inhuman” treatment of Afghan refugees in the country.
After witnessing injustices and discrimination, the family decided to return to Afghanistan only eight months after they fled.
“My husband worked in a hot metal factory for three months but he was fired without receiving his salaries,” she said. “We would have been detained, if we had complained because we were living there illegally.”
In her home country too, Fatima is facing immense economic challenges and social restrictions.
Millions of people, including children, don’t have enough to eat. In the spring, the United Nations predicted that up to 97 percent of the entire population of around 35 million could be living in poverty by mid-2022.
International Organization for Migration (IOM) says 24.4 million people, which make up 59 percent of the country’s total population, are dependent on aid and emergency relief.
The Taliban have also imposed draconian restrictions and regulations, making life even more difficult in the country. But nonetheless, some Afghans are returning voluntarily, and others, who have been deported, have no option but to endure living in Afghanistan.
Fatima, who voluntarily returned to Afghanistan, said she, her husband and their five children are living in a dire economic situation.
“It is difficult to start from zero in this difficult situation in Afghanistan. We sold everything at half price before we left” for Iran, 42-year-old Fatima said. “Now we don’t have anything, not even dishes and rugs. We are completely helpless and poor.”
“We also don’t have security because of the Taliban, ” she added, “There is no work and no food.”
Fatima’s fear was legitimate when she fled Afghanistan.
The Taliban have summarily executed, detained and kidnapped hundreds of members of the former government’s forces, despite announcing a general amnesty after entering Kabul, according to international human rights groups and media reports.
Had she stayed behind, her husband could be one of the victims.
The precise number of Afghans, who fled their country since the Taliban’s return to power, is unknown. But by some estimates that number could be millions, most of whom ended up in Pakistan and Iran, the two neighboring countries which host around 20 percent of Afghanistan’s entire population.
Iran currently hosts about five million Afghans, some of whom lived in the country for decades. While many Iranians welcome and assist Afghans, there have been strong allegations of mistreatment, abuse and discrimination.
Recently, Iran has increased deportations to Afghanistan, according to media reports.
The Taliban’s government has provided little to no support for the returnees and deportees, despite inviting Afghans to return.
Yasameen, 26, said she was forced to return to Afghanistan after her husband was deported around two months ago. Yasameen said she was a university student and her husband was an employee at the Ministry of Information and Culture during the former government.
Her husband lost her job when the Taliban came to power. Yasameen sold her jewelry and both headed to Iran, hoping to get to Europe via Turkey. But they stayed in Iran, and her husband started working in a marble factory to save some money and pay for the smugglers.
“We feared we would be detained every moment,” she said. “Then my husband was deported, and we were forced to return.”
Yasmeen’s life has been difficult in Afghanistan as much as it was in Iran where she lived for around ten months.
“We lost everything, and we don’t even have the money to pay rent,” she said, “We have no idea what to do, and how to make a living.”
“We don’t have money to go somewhere else or to stay here,” she added. “It looks like being left in the desert.”