This report is supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives
October 28, 2023
By Arshad Mohmand
Aimal Salar migrated from Afghanistan’s Jalalabad province to Peshawar in Pakistan when the Taliban assumed control of Afghanistan two years ago. He used to sell fruits off a pushcart in Board Bazar to support his family of 16, but on Friday lost his only source of income after the district administration’s anti-encroachment drive. He is now trying to make ends meet as a daily-wage laborer, but is earning only half of what he was as a fruit vendor.
“I now work for Rs. 800. Prior to this I made anything between Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 1,500 selling bananas every day,” he explains, adding that he is piling on. “Every month I have to borrow Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 25,000 from somewhere, because there is no way I can make do on my own.”
Salar says that he cannot head back to Afghanistan. And because he lacks legal documents, not only are his chances of finding legitimate employment are next to none, he is also threatened with deportation.
“Things are really bad these days. They say they are kicking out migrants. I do not have an Afghan tazkira (identification card) or any other card, so the police pick me up often. They let me off at Rs. 1,000, sometimes Rs. 2,000,” he states.
“It is so demeaning.”
Peshawar’s Board area is also known as Little Kabul, as most new immigrants from Afghanistan find work here relatively easily. According to Naqeeb Bacha, head of the Afghan Traders Association, around 700 vending carts were removed in Friday’s anti-encroachment operation, of which 200 were being operated by Afghan refugees who arrived in Pakistan after the Taliban takeover of Pakistan.
“When the Taliban took over Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, most of the migrants that came here got pushcarts to go out there and earn for their families. Now even those have been snatched away from them. I pray to God that [the authorities] find an alternative location for them,” he hopes.
Mashal Khan has been trading in this market for the past 30 years, but due to the influx of new migrants, he says that the frequency of police patrols and ‘clean-up’ drives have also increased.
“It is winter in Afghanistan, it is terrible there: the Taliban are in power, there are no jobs. People are starving there. How can [refugees] go back there? It is all about whether one can make a living, which is impossible in Afghanistan,”
he tells Voicepk.net.
The Peshawar district administration claims that there were numerous complaints regarding encroachment in Board Bazar, and that the market was cleared as per routine.
Assistant Commissioner (AC) Peshawar Rao Hashim tells Voicepk.net that an alternative location is being sought to allow vendors a dedicated space and to restore their means of earning.
“We have issued a mandate to these traders’ associations and unions to find a different location [for their businesses] and to visit me in my office the very next day. We will begin work on a model market on feasible land, so that encroachments permanently end at Board Bazar” he says. “With regards to their concerns to their livelihood, we will redress that as well.”
On October 2, Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar issued an October 31 deadline for all unregistered migrants to leave Pakistan. Following the announcement, mass operations were launched against illegal migrants, most of whom are Afghan, in various parts of the country, including Karachi, Islamabad and Peshawar. Thousands of families have so far returned to Afghanistan on their own.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are currently 1.3 million registered and 1.4 million unregistered Afghan asylum-seekers in Pakistan. Of these, nearly 700,000 migrated to Pakistan in the past two years.