Last year an Afghan woman with her six family members was refused refugee status by UN Refugee Agency in its office in Delhi. The family had fled Afghanistan following threats to their lives. But their problems aggravated after arrival in Delhi, as they had to face threats of detention and deportation.
WORLD REFUGEE Day is celebrated every year on June 20. First held in 2001, the day is marked to highlight the plight of the millions of refugees worldwide who are forced to flee their homes.
The day reminded me of meeting a woman wearing a burqa in my office. I don’t exactly remember the day, but it was October last. Someone referred the name of the organization I am associated with to her for assistance. The woman, aged about 40 years, was running from pillar to post after her application for grant of refugee status was rejected by the UNHCR, Delhi for the second time.
She was from Afghanistan. Like many, she fled her country and came to India
in 2008 to save her life. She was not alone. There were six others - five children and one sister. Out of the five children, four were daughters, aged between 15 and 20. The youngest was the son of five years. While her sister was 19-years-old.
I was taken aback to hear her story. Prior to arrival in India, she was living somewhere in Kabul. The death of her husband in a car accident in 2006 forced her to work as a teacher to take care of her children. However, the money she was earning was not adequate. Soon she started running a beauty parlour, a risky venture in Afghanistan, to support her five children. Troubles started since then. She was repeatedly threatened by some elements suspected to be the Taliban who wanted her to close down the beauty parlour – the only one in her locality. She approached the local Afghan Police but got no protection.
After the death of her father-in-law in 2008, the threats intensified each day. According to her, one day, two persons physically assaulted one of her daughters. Few days later, the same persons threatened to kidnap her daughters.
In order to protect herself and daughters, she decided to take shelter in Tajikistan. All of them applied for Tajik visas, which were issued. However, the people close to the Taliban came to know about it and threatened her telephonically in her mobile phone that they will follow them to Tajikistan and kill them there, she alleged.
Out of fear, she decided to abort the plan of going to Tajikistan and further decided to come to India. They applied for Indian visas and reached Delhi.
After arrival in India, she along with her family members applied for the grant of refugee status from the UNCHR, Delhi. Unfortunately, the UNCHR rejected her application on the grounds that it did not qualify for recognition as a refugee under UNCHR Mandate.
She argued that the UNCHR rejected her application, as the translator she was provided with was unable to put her case (problems she was facing in her country) convincingly before the UNCHR due to language problem during the interview. Her translator speaks Persian while she speaks Dari language. There is a big difference in the language. Yet, she was provided the same translator during the second interview.
As her application was rejected the dejection on her face was palpable. She was more concerned about her children and younger sister. She had no place to go. They could not go back to Afghanistan due to threats to their lives. While in India they were living under constant threats of deportation and detention.
This is not the one-off case. There are many refugees who have been denied protection for one reason or the other. They are forced to live in extreme situations and are highly vulnerable to abuse. Situation is worst for this Afghan woman with daughters for reasons, which require no explanation.