This article is supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives
November 15, 2023
By Nadeem Khan
A little distance from the Spin Boldak crossing point at the Chaman border, families are slowly but steadily gathering, getting ready to cross over to Afghanistan – one last time.
These are the migrants who have been living in Pakistan for a long time – some even being born here. But today they have nothing as they are pushed to leave for Afghanistan.
Wazir Mohammad is also in the camp with his family – including his children. Wazir is 27 years old and says he was born in Quetta, spending a large part of his life – around 15 years – in Karachi.
But, he says, he could never shake off the identity of a ‘refugee’. Even though he had a refugee card, it was not easy.
“Having a mohajir (refugee) card doesn’t mean much. They could either let you off if they wanted, or they could get you for it. Either way, the life of a refugee is a huge challenge. You can’t do business or anything else.”
Traveling and converging here at Spin Boldak, the families who have come have had to sell off everything they owned in order to get some money. They are situated in the open field here – a dusty, barren place.
“If we have come all the way here, it is after we sold everything we owned – our furniture, jewelry, everything – for half the price. There was a showcase that we had bought for Rs40,000 but which we ended up selling for just Rs5000,”
The discriminatory attitude of the police has made life a living hell.
“They [the police] still have my brothers – one of them we managed to release after paying Rs17,000, but they still have the other. Our father is also still here in Pakistan. It’s just us – my family, my children – who are leaving as our self-respect is important to us. Life has not been easy as for the last three months as I have not had any work.”
Reporters not allowed
There is a holding center or a camp of sorts, set up by the local administration at Spin Boldak. But when the Voicepk team went there to report, they were stopped from doing so. Whatever could be seen was from outside the camp, and reporting was done facing many challenges. It was apparent that the local people who lived in the area, are bringing the camp refugees food and water and distributing this among them.
“When we are arrested from the markets, our children would be at home alone,” says Dilbar Afghan*, whose name has been changed to protect his identity. “We would be thrown into vehicles and taken away. I came from Afghanistan around seven or eight years ago. Now we are returning to Afghanistan because the Pakistani government did not let us be here. There are women with us, but the government is not softening its stance in any way. It is the locals who are helping us otherwise the government is simply looting from us.”
Chaman Protest Demands
Meanwhile, at Chaman, it has been 25 days since a sit-in began. The primary demand of this sit-in has been to reverse the decision to restrict border crossing for those having no visa and passport. Most people have been crossing over daily for economic purposes – crossing to the other side for work, and then going back by the end of the day.
But while they have been demanding that the citizens be allowed to cross over, they also have demands from the government for the rights of Afghan refugees.
Olus Yar Khan Achakzai, the spokesperson of the protest says that the government has already announced that the refugees must leave by November, but that the refugees must be treated under international law and convention.
“Through this sit-in, we demand the Pakistani government to see to it that the Afghan refugees must be treated under the UN charter,” he said. “They must not be harassed, their belongings must not be taken away, and they must not be forcibly sent to Afghanistan. They should be treated under the laws of the UNHCR – laws that are followed globally. Also Pakistan should follow its own Citizen Acts of 1951 and 1952, and the refugees must be treated according to the other international agreements that Pakistan has made.”
Achakzai stressed that the refugees have been given their rights under these acts, laws and agreements.
“Those who were born here and whose age is now around 20 years, should be eligible for citizenship,” he says. “For the past 40 years Afghan refugees have been doing small businesses here and have been living here. Even the kids living in the Afghan refugee camps here can speak better Urdu than Pushtu or Dari.”