This report is supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives
October 8, 2023
By Jamaima Afridi
Pakistan’s recent decision to deport illegal Afghan refugees till November has created an atmosphere of fear and panic especially among Afghan women – many of whom are already suffering from psychological problems.
According to the joint report of three United Nations agencies, a majority of Afghan women particularly those who have sought refuge face a number of mental health issues because of insecurity and a lack of basic rights.
Farkhnaz Al Kozai, known as Sahar in Afghanistan’s media, the renowned journalist, migrated to Pakistan after the occupation of the Taliban. Even today, when she talks about Afghanistan, her eyes become moist. Not only is she under stress due to the current situation, but her entire family is still in Afghanistan and is facing a different kind of threat living under the Taliban.
“Even though I have my visa and my documents, my father and my family still tell me not to go out, because I live alone and they are scared the police may arrest me,” she said. “I always give this example and say to others there to them come and live here alone and then they will know what the state of my mind is.”
Under the Taliban government, Farkhnaz faced terrible mental health too. She said the entire year after the Taliban had come, she had to undergo four months in bed due to immense stress, but leaving them behind and coming to Pakistan was the most difficult thing she did. Every Afghan here is in fear of being deported and exiled, and they are undergoing mental stress because of this.”
According to the UN report, due to lack of basic necessities, and the stress they face Afghan women are suffering serious mental health issues.
Dr. Mian Iftikhar, a Peshawar-based psychiatrist says most of his patients are Afghan refugees, especially women. He says women undergo two percent more psychological problems compared to men due to a variety of reasons.
“A large percentage of patients are Afghans and out of those most are women,” he said. “When it comes to suffering from depression, there is a 2:1 ratio with women suffering more of it than men. Before this 57% of the population suffered from depression. Its increased and become 75% now.”
One of the causes of mental health issues remains the lack of attention by international organizations on Afghan refugees and their deteriorating conditions.
An elderly Afghan woman described the situation of her family in the last one year and explained of how the fear of the Taliban and the worry of economic problems have affected her mental health.
“I am 50 years old and have 4 sons and 4 daughters,” says Pashmina*. “We came to Pakistan about 35 years ago. One of my sons also is suffering from mental illness. We came here to rid ourselves of the problems we faced in Afghanistan. But instead, we consistently faced even more issues here. On one side we are worried because of the inflation and our debts. On the other side, we are worried for my son who is suffering from mental health issues. Thanks to all this, my own mental and physical health has gone down. I used to be a healthy woman.”
Dr. Iftikhar also said that due to the Taliban’s restrictions and other problems in the host country, the situation of Afghan women is completely different from the psychological problems of Pakistani women.
“These women have access to social media, they know about their rights and they may even have seen Ashraf Ghani’s regime, when health, education, etc were all accessible and open for them. Obviously after being caged, under the Taliban, and not being able to access these basic necessities – you cannot work, go to the beauty salon, or the park, etc.”
Afghan women say that various types of rights violations by the Taliban, including women’s independence and education, have put a question mark on the future of Afghan women and girls, but now Pakistan’s decision to return them to Afghanistan is tantamount to pushing them to death.