'Asking for Our Rights': Afghans in India Protest Outside UNHCR Office, Demand Refugee Status

Most of these people escaped to India about five years ago, but still have trouble accessing basic services and employment opportunities.

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New Delhi: As the world is witnessing the violence and bloodshed unfolding in Afghanistan, Afghan nationals who fled the war-torn country years ago to live a better life are demanding refugee status in India.

Afghan refugees living in Delhi protested outside the office of United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) on Monday, asking that they be granted refugee status.

Chanting slogans like “We want justice”, many Afghan refugees including women, children and the elderly gathered outside the UNHCR office. Most of these refugees have been taking shelter in India for more than five years now. For them, life without a refugee card means no access to better education and healthcare.

For Maria, 40, life has not been easy since she left her home in Afghanistan and came to India. “My husband is paralysed due to which we are facing a lot of difficulties. I have been living here for four years and I still do not have a refugee card. I have two children – my 12 year old has started working because we are in a terrible condition. I do not have any relatives here as we ran away from Afghanistan,” she said.

Looking exhausted and overwhelmed, Maria said she is scared for her future and requests the UNHCR to grant her refugee status.

Watch: What Does a Taliban-Led Afghanistan Mean for India?

As there was no agreement with the UNHCR officials, the protesters have set up tents and refused to move until their demands are met.

‘Plans to move to a better country’

Women’s safety is one of the major concerns for people who ran away and are still looking for asylum in different countries.

Twenty-year-old Tufikai came to India five years ago and is now protesting for refugee status. “The condition in India is also bad for us, which is why we are demanding refugee status. I wish to move to a developed country because since my family has been here, we are struggling. With the entry of the Taliban, there is no way we can go back. We accept that life is going to be even more difficult, we just want organisations like UNHCR to provide us with a safety net,” she said.

Those applying for asylum in India have to contact the UNHCR, which helps them get registered.

On August 17, the Ministry of External Affairs said India will issue emergency e-visas to Afghan nationals who want to come to the country, given the prevailing crisis in their country. All Afghans, irrespective of their religion, can apply for the ‘e-Emergency X-Misc Visa’ online and the applications will be processed in New Delhi. The visas would initially be valid for six months, officials said.

Afghan refugees protest outside the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, demanding refugee status/cards for all Afghans, resettlement option to a third country, and security from UNHCR & the Indian government, at Vasant Vihar in New Delhi, Monday, Aug, 23, 2021. Photo: PTI/Kamal Singh

Written appeal to UNHCR

Represented by the Afghan Solidarity Committee, the protesters, in a letter to the UN refugee agency, said the “situation in Afghanistan is currently deteriorating with rapid speed and harsh violence”. “Without any conditions and regulations,” the asylum seekers should be recognised as refugees, the panel urged in one of the three demands.

Appealing for financial security, the committee further said: “Due to the current situation in Afghanistan, and to the definitive closure of all kinds of incoming financial sources that Afghan refugees depended are stopped, so we want from UNHCR and its partners to full cover our essentials living facilities henceforth until we leave India.”

Speaking to The Wire, president of the Afghan Solidarity Committee Ahmad Ziad said that there are three demands that have been put forward by the organisation. He said that Afghans living in India are suffering, and they have told asylum seekers running from Afghanistan about the situation here. “Whatever we are demanding is our right, we are not begging. The condition of refugees here is really bad. They have no mode of income or health facilities. We have given suggestions to asylum seekers from back home to come here as there are no facilities. If the UNHCR and Indian government can do something to ease the situation for us refugees, I would only then suggest that those people come here,” he said.

Also read: Afghanistan: A Western War Zone

With the Taliban having effectively taken control of Afghanistan, thousands of citizens are afraid of retaliation or human rights violations. While the Taliban has held press conferences and said that women will not suffer and will be allowed to work, many are skeptical and still reeling from the violent past.

For one woman at the protest, the Taliban’s violence is still haunting. “My brother was killed by the Taliban, after which we ran away and came here. We have been living here for quite some time and want to live a life without any difficulties, which is why I would request the UNHCR to grant us refugee status. I cannot think of even going back home, I will always have to run away from that past,” she said.

As of 2019, Afghans accounted for around a third of the nearly 40,000 refugees registered in India, according to the UN refugee agency. These figures do not cover those who are not registered with the UN.