Country of Origin Background
In 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Over the next ten years, there was fierce resistance to the Soviet presence from the United States-backed Mujahadeen. During this time, approximately 60,000 Afghans sought refuge abroad. The Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. By 1992, however, the country was embroiled yet more violence; this time a civil war between the Taliban and the ruling Najibullah regime. The civil war, lasting four years, destroyed more than 80% of the capital city, Kabul and saw yet more Afghans forced to flee the country. The Taliban came to power in 1996. Their oppressive regime was based on the strictest interpretation of Sharia law. Under the Taliban, it was forbidden for girls or women to be educated after the age of eight, to watch television, listen to music or to clap during sporting events. Following the events of 11 September 2001, the United States and the United Kingdom, along with other NATO supporters, launched a military attack on Afghanistan. The Taliban withdrew to the Afghan-Pakistani border where they continue their protracted campaign against the new Afghan government.
Reason for flight
There are over 9,000 recognised Afghan refugees in India and 90 percent of them belong to the Hindu or Sikh faiths; religious minorities in Afghanistan who could not openly practice their religions in their home country for fear of persecution. Most of the Afghan Sikh and Hindu refugees in India sought asylum after 1992, with the fall of the Najibullah regime.
Three decades of fighting have destroyed the country’s economy and infrastructure and government security bodies continue to commit human rights violations with impunity. Widespread human rights violations include: extra-judicial killing, torture, rape, violence against women and tight restrictions on freedoms of press, religion, movement and association. Between July and October 2007, it is estimated that a further 15,000 people were forcibly displaced by the conflict.
India has not signed the 1951 Convention on Refugees or the 1967 Protocol and the Indian government does not officially recognize the Afghan community to be refugees. Instead, they are recognised and protected under the UNHCR mandate.
The Indian government has issued most Afghan refugees with valid residence permits. This affords them a degree of legal protection, which allows them to stay in the country despite not having valid passports. Attaining residence permits has been more difficult for the newer arrivals that arrived in India between 2004 and 2007.
Newly recognised Afghan refugees receive a small subsistence allowance for the first six months: Rs 2,225 for the principal applicant and Rs 750 for each dependant. After six months, only the most vulnerable Afghans such as female heads of household, the disabled and the elderly, receive this sum.
Whilst most Afghan refugees live in Delhi, there are also a large number living in Faridabad, Haryana. The Afghan Hindu and Sikh community are generally well integrated into Indian society since they share religious beliefs and often speak Hindi. Since the majority of the Afghan community holds resident permits, many Afghans are able to work in the informal sector, for example, running shops and working as salespeople. Whilst there are some prosperous Afghan refugees, a large number live in poverty; sharing cramped living quarters with other families and seeking work in the informal sector. Those that are in need receive some support from their community and from various welfare societies like Khalsa Diwan Society and Gurudwaras.
The UNHCR also runs various assistance programmes through its implementing partners for the benefit of Afghan refugees. Through its implementing partners, it provides refugees with access to academic resources, including an education assistance programme in association with the Young Men’s Christian Association, Delhi. Educational assistance is provided to all Afghan refugee children who are pursuing primary and secondary education.
Specific protection issues
Afghan refugees who do not possess residence permits often struggle to support themselves and their families. A large proportion of the Afghan community are widows and single mothers Workers in the informal sector work very long hours and often find it difficult to get time off work. They are at risk of exploitation and harassment at work and it is reported that Muslim Afghan women are particularly discriminated against. The employment of Afghan refugees who do not possess valid resident permits is illegal and extortion and harassment by the police is an ever-present threat.
Whilst education is open to all Afghan refugee children, most Afghan boys only study up to primary level before starting work to support their families. The dropout rate among Afghan girls is also high in the primary level for a variety of reasons: to take care of ill relatives, because they get engaged and for financial reasons.
The majority of Afghan refugees are Hindus and Sikhs who arrived in India in the early 1990s after the Taliban came to power. A large number of them have shown interest in becoming naturalised Indian citizens. The eligibility requirement is that a refugee must have lived in India for 12 years or have been married to an Indian for seven years.