This report is supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives
September 23, 2023
By Jamaima Afridi
Two years since the Taliban established their rule over Afghanistan, challenges for women and artists/musicians on either side of the border keep mounting with each passing day.
Since August 15, 2021, thousands have fled Afghanistan for safe haven in bordering states, with many of these migrants pouring into Pakistan. These migrants include women and artists, both of whom face severe threats to their lives back at home.
Asma Waisal is a musician by trade. She left her homeland for Pakistan due to the ban on music as well as restrictions on women to work. But because she lacks travel documents, she faces multiple challenges even in ‘sanctuary’.
“Our cases are not being processed, the police harass us, and we can’t find any work because we are refugees,” she lists off all the various difficulties she as an undocumented migrant in Pakistan must contend with. “Without any documents, without visas, no one will hire us. Even if we manage to get employed somewhere, [the employer] hassles us over pay.”
She says that she and other Afghan new migrants are under severe mental stress. They do not know what will become of them or their families.
“The Afghan people are struggling with so many problems. They need help. Make things easier for them so they can spend their lives in contentment.”
Pakistan is not signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention nor the 1967 Protocol, and so far has no legal framework in place for the protection of refugees.
Fazal Rabi, Director of the Solution Strategy Unit of the Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees, explains that without such a framework, it is incredibly difficult to address this problem.
“The fact that we do not have any legislature pertaining to Afghan migrants is our biggest concern… Then, Afghans who arrived after 2021 seem to oppose the Taliban and do not want to return to their country,” he says. “Despite these challenges, we are doing everything we can to facilitate in every way.
Afghans without travel documents face more challenges than those who do.
Like Waisal, Khan Agha migrated to Peshawar because of the Taliban’s ban on music, which wiped out his chances at making a living as well as securing a future. He currently resides in a small room which he shares with three other artists. They all lack legal documents, as a result of which they cannot find employment nor are they guaranteed even basic rights.
“I am from Jalalabad. I had my own academy there, too. When the Taliban came into power, they banned music. We tried to continue our work and open up shops after that, but it wasn’t safe to do so. When I made up my mind to move to Pakistan, the first thing I did was apply for a visa,” he relates. “I waited three months but the visa never came. I could not cross the Torkham border [without a visa] so I entered Quetta through the Chaman border, and from there I made it to Peshawar.”
He says that although the native musicians here are incredibly supportive, to run an academy he needs to rent a room for which the owners always demand an identification card.
“The police bars us from everything, as well,” he said.
Qaisar Afridi, spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says that the number of refugees and migrants, including undocumented Afghans, in Pakistan is staggeringly high.
“They have not been issued proper legal documents by the government, regarding which we have been in consistent communication with the relevant authorities. Unfortunately, we have yet to determine a solution to this problem,” he tells Voicepk.net. “We feel that it is important to first regularize Afghan migrants, following which we can facilitate them through our programs.”
Afghan artists feel that there is no future for musicians and artists in Afghanistan while the Taliban still reigns. They hope that with a legal framework in place, many of the challenges they face in Pakistan can become easy to overcome.