Peter Balleis SJ/JRS
Sohadat, 1 September 2009  – On the outskirts of Herat city, we are privileged to encounter this mystery of grace, accompanying Afghan refugees who have come home. If decades of war, natural disaster and acute poverty drove millions of Afghans to seek a safe haven far from home, the fall of the Taliban regime brought a sense of security, the desire to return and live with dignity in Afghanistan.

Living as refugees, they harboured great dreams and hopes. Yet, on their return, they often feel like refugees in their homeland. For those coming to Sohadat, which initially lacked even the most basic facilities, the reality could be devastating, leaving the returnees broken and discouraged. For them, humanitarian assistance from the government and NGOs was not enough to begin life anew. Many preferred to rent shacks closer to Herat, and some decided to leave the country altogether.

Connecting hearts is not easy. Yet, with Jumagul there were no barriers from the start, when he as one of the family. As we chat over a cup of tea one day, he says: "I don’t know what to share, and yet I can share with you everything about my life. You’re my friend and I trust you."

"I am happy to be here, back home. Although there is nothing special about my country and the place I have been given, there is nothing like being back." But coping with the difficult conditions here is not easy for Jumagul or his children. 

He points at them with an engaging smile, and asks: "Do they look like refugees? At Sohadat, we have to restart our lives from scratch. Today, what do I have? Except for my stature in my community, nothing! When I tell my children, we have our own home in our motherland, they retort, 'We have a hut!'"

I listen attentively and wonder whether to urge him to continue or not. There is no need; Jumagul slips into a reflective mood, recalling his life as a refugee in Iran for 20 years and his return to Afghanistan.

Jerome Sequeira SJ, JRS Programme Director, Herat
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