Afghans spend Eid in poverty after fleeing Pakistan

Published June 17, 2024
Devotees offer Eidul Azha prayers at Hazrat-i-Omar mosque in Kandahar on June 17. — AFP
Devotees offer Eidul Azha prayers at Hazrat-i-Omar mosque in Kandahar on June 17. — AFP

Seven months since fleeing Pakistan out of fear of deportation, Jan Mohammad marked the Eidul Azha holiday on Monday by struggling to feed his family, still living in a tent in Afghanistan in the border province of Nangarhar.

“We are spending Eid as if we were in prison,” the 30-year-old father of six told AFP.

“We have absolutely no money. We are still grateful to Allah that we are alive but sometimes we regret that as well. We can’t do anything. This year, and this Eid, we became fully bankrupt.” He and his family crossed from Pakistan at the end of last year, not long after a deadline set by Islamabad for Afghans without legal right to stay in the country to leave.

Hundreds of thousands of Afghans have hurriedly packed up their belongings to start fresh in their homeland, a place many of them had never seen before, in the months since the November 1, 2023 deadline.

But months later, many have still not found their feet.

Mohammad and his family were living in a tent encampment in the Moye Mubarak area of Nangarhar with other recently returned Afghan families.

He worked as a trainer at a sports club in Pakistan but is now jobless, unable to provide sufficient food for his family, let alone take part in Eidul Azha traditions of buying new clothes or a sheep for the ritual sacrifice or gathering with extended family and friends.

“My children don’t have proper food to eat or clothes to wear (for Eid), or shoes, while the children in the nearby villages have good clothes and shoes. My children want the same things. It is very difficult but we are helpless,” Mohammad said.

“It breaks my heart, I sit in a corner at home and cry.” In a nearby tent, Sang Bibi is also holding on by a thread. Where other families were buying new clothes for Eid, she and her six children can rarely wash and beg for hand-me-downs to wear.

“We even beg for the clothes of [the] dead,” the 60-year-old widow, the sole breadwinner for her family, told AFP.

“We have been in a terrible situation these past two Eids,” she said, referring to Eidul Fitr, which fell at the end of the holy month of Ramazan in April this year.

No ‘bread to eat’

The influx of returnees into Afghanistan from both Pakistan and Iran came as the war-ravaged country grapples with economic, climate and humanitarian crises.

UN refugee agency UNHCR said last year that Afghans make up the third-largest group of displaced people globally, with around eight million Afghans living across 103 countries as of 2023.

The Taliban government, which took power almost three years ago, provided some support for the returnees but struggled to cope with the surge.

“We want the government to help us by providing shelter,” said Sana Gul, who has lived in a tent with her husband and their two daughters since coming from Pakistan.

In the days ahead of Eid, markets were bustling with shoppers buying sweets and food for the holiday, with many families sharing meat with poorer relations during the holiday.

But having spent years, if not their whole lives, abroad, fleeing Afghanistan’s successive conflicts, many returnees have few networks to support them.

“We don’t even have bread to eat,” said Gul’s husband Safar.

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