Afghanistan: transition from refugee to returnee
01 September 2009

Sohadat Township (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)
I fear that my young sons may join some extremist group and I couldn’t bear that.
Herat, 1 September 2009 – I fled Afghanistan before the Taliban regime. As a young boy, I was asked to take up arms to fight the Communists and to protect our families. I felt great. But, in the days that followed, I heard that 24,000 people had been killed and our leaders had fled. I felt our guns were no stronger than those of the Communists, and they would not save us.

If I had been educated, I would never have picked up a gun. But now, I don’t so much regret being a refugee as much as I regret our conditions here. In Iran, I had a daily income and decent facilities. I was quite self-sufficient. I never touched my savings and we had enough to lead a happy life as a family. And although I was a refugee, I had recognition. I am an artist and my paintings were in demeaned in the Iranian market. Here, no one cares for paintings, not even for human beings! More than money I had recognition. Today, I just live, not knowing what and where I am. I don't want this to happen to my five sons and daughter. I don't want to keep my children in a rented house to pass thought what I have passed through. I want to give them the identity that comes with having a home of their own. I am happy to be back and I dream that Afghanistan will progress and develop.

Landing in my country, within a year and a half, I had to go on the streets, pulling carts to feed my family. When my children began questioning my decision to return to Afghanistan, I made up my mind to leave and live like a refugee for ever. But I feared three things. First, our safety is not guaranteed while crossing the border. Second, if we do cross, I am afraid my children may lose their nationality. Third, I fear that my young sons may join some extremist group and I couldn’t bear that.

I have been in Herat for the last five years. I came as a happy man and became a labourer and a helpless father. Of course, the government and NGOs helped us. Yet, we returnees had lost the confidence to rebuild our lives. Some even left Sohadat Township after they saw the newly-built houses collapsing.

But suddenly there was a change in the township. You didn’t put up any signboard here but your presence was marked by an empowering symbol: light in our township and among our families. From others, we got no response. We couldn’t believe that you, an organisation visiting us without publicity or fanfare, with members coming from the city in hired taxi-cabs, would bring us light.
JRS has brought an invisible, yet very real, symbol of hope to every household here. Not only did you give us electricity as light for our homes, you have also brought us the light of education, which all parents want for their children. Our children are well occupied now, with no time to think about anti-social activities.

I am a Muslim and I live by hope. Who am I to be considered your friend? If I had no hope, I wouldn’t have had the chance to sit with you and share my life. I believe it is the Kingdom of God that brings us all together around the world. I don’t believe in NGO support, but I trust in their hearts. The religion of the heart is the one I believe in.

JRS has changed the face of our township. Your presence has challenged us, and has spurred other organisations to work faster. Our dilapidated houses are taking shape and the number of families in the township has increased from 32 to 58 within seven months. So I reaffirm that I believe in the heart – this is the religion I believe in.

Jumagul, a refugee returned to Afghanistan