January 1st, 2021
By Jamaima Afridi & Sharifullah
Thousands of Afghans have crossed the Durand Line over the past three decades to escape the forever war in their country. Many of them have permanently settled in the rural expanses of Landi Kotal, a virtual border town on Pakistan’s side of the Durrand Line.
But merely escaping Afghanistan and reaching the relative safety of Landi Kotal’s rural lands have not done much to alleviate the suffering of these downtrodden people because being (informal) refugees these people are not legally allowed to hold jobs or run businesses in Pakistan, leaving them economically stranded.
The onset of the Coronavirus pandemic has worsened their situation. In these times of difficulty a local Christian woman, Sonia Bibi, has stepped up for her Muslim neighbors. “I was born here. I have spent my entire life in Muslim neighborhoods. When I saw these people going through such a difficult situation I could not stop myself. I had to help,” says Sonia Bibi.
Sonia explains that even though the situation was already very difficult, the takeover of Afghanistan by Taliban forces and the subsequent economic collapse have made a bad situation worse.
“Ever since the pandemic started we have given out things like flour bags, wheelchairs, water tanks, and other edible goods to over 2000 people. We carry out our donation drives every month,” explains Sonia.
Rakhmo, is a refugee from Afghanistan and has been living in the outskirts of Landi Kotal for the past three years. According to Rakhmo her monthly income is not sufficient to sustain her and her household which is why the ration distributed by Sonia Bibi is very essential to her survival.
“I belong to the Marco locality of Afghanistan and had to cross the Durrand Line some three and a half years ago. My children are orphans. I was not getting any wages at all in Afghanistan because of which I decided to leave my home country. Otherwise, my children would have died of hunger. Here I live with my son-in-law who is a casual laborer earning about four to five hundred Rupees daily. Left on our own we would not have been able to feed our children but the foodstuff provided by Sonia helps us get by,” explains Rakhmo.
Sonia says that this spirit of human compassion came to her from her father who always tried to help people in need.
“My inspiration for doing this work comes from my father. As a child, I used to see my father help people with a variety of things. For instance, people would come to my father’s house and tell him that they wanted to go to Punjab for work and needed money for the trip. My father would not hesitate for a second before giving them the little money we had,” says Sonia.
There are an estimated 1.5 to 2 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, many of whom are unregistered, making them ineligible for any government assistance. Due to the re-occupation of Afghanistan by the Taliban and the deteriorating economic situation, international organizations have expressed concern that in the future, a large number of people may migrate from Afghanistan and enter Pakistan putting further pressure on the tribal economy. Which may create hardships for both the incoming refugees and the settled host communities.