Educated Afghans Stay Away

For many highly-skilled refugees, a harsh life in Pakistan is preferable to an uncertain future back home.

Educated Afghans Stay Away

For many highly-skilled refugees, a harsh life in Pakistan is preferable to an uncertain future back home.

Hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees hoping for a better life rushed across the Pakistan border in the first months of Afghanistan’s interim administration last spring.

But thousands of others have chosen to remain because of poor living conditions, lack of safety and inadequate education in their homeland.

"The rate of return of Afghans who are highly educated and professionally skilled is not very high," acknowledged Mir Mohsini, adviser to the Afghan Assistance Coordination Authority, who said only a minority of the former had gone back to help the country, with some working for the AACA.

The general feeling among these refugees is that, although conditions are far from perfect in Pakistan, there is nothing in Afghanistan to encourage them to return permanently.

A group of students and researchers interviewed in a Peshawar library listed a number of concerns, such as inflation, lack of water, electricity, and housing, and the poor quality of education and health care. But the overarching problem, they said, is that there’s no rule of law in Afghanistan. As one refugee said, “We want protection for ourselves, our land and property.”

Ahmad Siyer Hashimi, who has lived in Peshawar for 17 years and has relatives who returned to Afghanistan, told IWPR he doesn’t want to go back because he fears being attacked. “Ethnic Pashtuns who are a minority in the north continue to flee because of violence, rape, seizure of farmland and demands for money by local commanders,” he said.

Shaima, a high school teacher in Peshawar, said she would stay so that all her sacrifices would not be in vain. “I brought my children here and lived here in hardship in Pakistan for 20 years so that they would be safe,” she said. “I am not going to take them to see them die from lack of water, cold weather and hunger.”

Many said they’re not willing to return until economic conditions in Afghanistan are better than in Pakistan.

“Though the Pakistani police are very harsh with us, I am sure that back in my village I would not be able to earn a living,” said Gul Ahmad, who was a driver in Afghanistan but is now unemployed in Pakistan and living on handouts and remittances from overseas relatives. “We have no other choice than to have a refugee life.”

Haji Naeem, chairman of the Afghan Carpet Traders Association, said that he’d been happy to see a new government in Afghanistan, but isn’t ready to relocate his factories and stores, which employ many thousands of workers. “We were waiting for the authorities to come up with good policies for traders, but over 10 months have passed they haven’t done anything for the promotion of the business community,” he said.

Ahmad Omaid, who is unemployed, said he was an officer in Afghanistan’s finance ministry before the Taleban regime and recently tried to get his job back. “I applied for my previous position, but was told the ministry already had too many employees. Then within a week they’d hired ten more people.”

Many of the refugees said their homes had been destroyed in the war and they didn’t have enough money to repair them. “We couldn’t return now even if we wanted to because winter is approaching and we don’t have anywhere to live,” said Haji Gul.

Education is another top concern for parents, especially those who are well-educated professionals themselves.

Fazluddin Fazil, an agriculture expert working with the international NGO Danish Committee for Aid to Afghanistan, is going back to Afghanistan to work but won’t bring his children with him.

“The education at Kabul University is unsatisfactory, and above all, the clashes inside the university are alarming,” he said. “My children have better learning opportunities in Pakistani institutions.”

Shafi Khan, a shopkeeper, said, “My children are studying in standard schools here in Pakistan. I do not want to put their future at risk by taking them to Afghanistan. As soon as an international school is established by western countries we will move.”

But for many refugees the ongoing security problems in Afghanistan is the over-riding concern.

“We are not entirely sure about the situation,” said Ahmad Zia, a student at Sayed Jamaluddin High School. His family fled the country during the war with the Soviets but returned after the mujahedin came to power, only to be forced out again when battles broke out amongst the warlords.

“We don’t want such disappointment and sorrow to be repeated, and until we are completely sure that there is peace, we won’t return,” he said.

Saifullah Samim is an independent journalist in Kabul.

Pakistan, Afghanistan
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