By Smriti Kak Ramachandran, The Hindu
NEW DELHI: Five years ago, she watched her husband being beheaded by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Fearing a similar fate for her family, 36-year-old Pashtoon fled to India with her five young children.
Here in the Capital for the past three years, Pashtoon says her struggle to stay alive has only worsened.
Sitting outside the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) here, she says she feels let down and, without any means of earning money, is worried about making ends meet.
"I have been refused a refugee status on the ground that I made a mistake during the interview. I am alone with five children and no money, I saw my husband being beheaded. Do you think my mind is equipped to answer questions with accuracy?" she asked.
Pashtoon along with 53 others who fled Afghanistan and have been denied refugee status began an indefinite sit-in outside the UNHCR office here on Monday.
"Some of us have been living in India for the past 14 years, but the UNHCR refuses to grant us refugee status. We live in constant fear of being deported back in the absence of documents. We can neither work nor send our children to school. Seeking refugee status has been more daunting than facing death in Afghanistan," said Ali Ahmed.
Living in cramped, squalid conditions, these Afghan families complain they are forced to sell their assets and do menial jobs even though they are educated. "We are capable of earning. If allowed to work, we can help not just our own families, but others as well," said Fakhira, a medical practitioner who came to India a year ago.
Absence of health care and education has hit the Afghan children the most. "When I delivered my baby at the government hospital, I had to sell everything we had to pay for the expenses," recalled another Afghan immigrant.
"Everyone tells us to show patience. The officers, the authorities, even the doctors we go to. Can we tell our illness to have patience?" questioned Mehruman, who regrets not being ale to complete her degree in computer science.
While these Afghans allege that UNHCR has been "insensitive to their plight", a UNHCR official refuting the charge said: " There is a process, known as refugee status determination (RSD), which essentially is a detailed interview with a legal officer from UNHCR to determine whether an asylum seeker has a well founded fear of persecution for certain reasons, is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself the protection of his or her country. If an asylum seeker is rejected after the RSD interview, he or she has the right to appeal. If a person is rejected on appeal, this is a final rejection."
Ali Ahmed along with other Afghan who are the final rejected cases, however, insist: "Conditions in Afghanistan are not conducive to our return."