Broken promises: Returnees in Afghanistan

Since the Taliban fell from power, about 2 million Afghans have returned to their country, all hoping to find jobs and rebuild their lives. For many, this hope has not become a reality. Contrary to their high hopes, many Afghans are without shelter and without jobs and are frustrated that they have not received any assistance. Throughout Afghanistan, there remain large groups of people who have not benefited from the reintegration assistance that was promised them. Michelle Brown and Ada Williams recently returned from Afghanistan where they were monitoring the conditions for returnees.
Man and Woman from Shomali Plains: We returned [to Istalef in the Shomali Plains] from Pakistan 6 months ago. My wife, my 6 children and I are renting the same house we were renting when we fled to Pakistan. When we arrived here, our house was burned, but ACTED (an NGO) helped us rebuild one room. All my children are going to school. In Pakistan, my husband and I worked very hard so that our children could go to school, but we are facing difficulties keeping them in school here. Of course we are happy to be back because here is our home. Our life is bad here, but at least we are free. I am an old man. There are no jobs for me here. NGOs pay people $2 a day to work on roads or build things, but my knees hurt me and I can't do these jobs. These are the only jobs. If I had a little money, I could start a shop. This is something I could do. I want to work. I need to work. I am living in this bad situation, but I don't want my children to live like me. All the time I am thinking about their future. I want them to be educated. They are all in first position in school. Until now, I have been able to send them school, but I need to work. My son could work and get paid $2 a day. That would buy food for us. I want him to stay in school, but we need to eat. We returned to our house. We thought America would help us. Even though we thank America, we need to eat.

Woman from Kabul: I am living here [in this "tent village" in Kabul] because I have nowhere else to go. I returned to Afghanistan almost 7 months ago with the help of UNHCR. I returned to my village, but the village leaders told me that there was no room for me and said that I had to come to Kabul. I lived in that village many, many years ago, before the war with the Russians. We rented a house and land, and then 17 years ago, I moved to Kabul. My husband was killed in a rocket attack five years ago, and after that we went to Pakistan. Now I am a widow with five children without land or a house. It gets very cold here at night, and we don't have enough food. Sometimes I can wash other people's clothes and earn a little money. Or sometimes I can sew blankets. An NGO hires women in the apartments near here to sew quilts, but the women cannot sew. So they bring the materials to the women in this "village" and they give us a little of the money that the NGO gives to them. I can't earn enough money. I want my children to go to school, and I want to live in a house, but there is no one to help me. I don't have a husband, and the government and NGOs are not helping me. I want to learn to read and write so I can get a better job. Right now, I am just thinking about our stomachs, but I am always thinking about my children and I want them to have a future.

Man From Kabul: I returned from Pakistan 7 months ago with the help of UNHCR. We are from Kabul, but we spent 6 years in Pakistan. Neither my nor myself owned a house. We were renting a place when we left for Pakistan. Our biggest problem here is shelter. You can see where we are living. It used to be a stable. Animals were sleeping here. When we first arrived in Kabul, we had no place to go so we went to the mosque. We stayed there for a few weeks, and someone there gave us this address. This property used to belong to a Talib, but he left. We can stay here and don't have to pay rent.

I shine shoes to earn money. On very good days, I can earn about $1, but I usually can't earn that much. I can't earn enough money to support them. It costs about $1 to buy food for my wife and four children. Many days, I just earn enough money to buy tea and some sugar and that's all we ear. Since we returned , an NGO has given us a heater, some coal, and some flour, but our coal is will run out in less than a month. When we first came from Pakistan, I wanted to enroll my children in school. The school would not accept them because I did not have an identity card. It takes about 5 days to get a new card, during that time I cannot work because I have to wait at the Ministries. If I take the time off work, who will earn money for the family?

When we were in Paksitan we were happy. The government promised that they would give us a house and food. Although we love our country, we are not happy here because we don't have the necessities to live. Because we love our country, we won't go back to Pakistan -- even though we had electricity there. We are not happy with the government because they lied to us. They said, 'Please come to your country, and we will help you.'

Jalalabad Woman - Tamraid village: I came home to my village [outside Jalalabad] three months ago from a refugee camp in Peshawar. I lived there since leaving Afghanistan in 1993. I did not receive any help to come to return to Afghanistan -- UNHCR told they would not help me because I had had received assistance to return already. So I came with some people I met on the road. I came to this village because I was born here; I was married here, so I came back here. I take care of my dead son's three children, all under the age of 7, and I live with my youngest daughter, my widowed daughter-in-law and my husband in a stable with three cows. My husband is very ill and I have no way of earning a living for the family. My daughter-in-law knows how to do some tailoring work but the sewing machine we have is broken and there is no money to fix it. Sometimes the village donates vegetables for our family to eat. I am very concerned for my grandchildren, I want them to attend school but there is no school here. I am happy to be back in my country but it is very difficult for us. I look to Allah for help.