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Refugees Find Afghanistan Less Than Hospitable


We often hear about the droves of refugees fleeing Afghanistan, but there are also people from places like Tajikistan, Iran and Iraq who are taking refuge in that country. But as NPR's Sean Carberry reports, Afghanistan has no laws to protect these asylum-seekers.

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: Civil war broke out in Tajikistan shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union.

AMIR HAMZA HALIMOV KHALICOVICH: (Foreign language spoken).

CARBERRY: Anti-Communists like Amir Hamza Halimov Khalicovich fled in droves. Dressed in loose-fitting, pinstriped suit and a stingy-brimmed fedora, Hamza says 65,000 Tajiks gathered near the Afghan border in 1993. They were contemplating crossing into a country itself in the mist of civil war.

KHALICOVICH: (Through translator) We were thinking that Afghanistan as a country has wild people, if we get in through there, they would kill us.

CARBERRY: A small group sent to investigate found that Afghans were hospitable. so the Tajiks fashioned rafts from inner tubes and crossed the Amu Darya River into Afghanistan.

KHALICOVICH: (Foreign language spoken).

CARBERRY: Hamza says thousands were killed by Tajik forces during the crossing. Most of those who survived continued to Iran or Pakistan. And a large group settled into a U.N. camp in the northern city of Mar-i-Sharif. Over the next two decades, most of the others managed to illegally migrate to other countries

KHALICOVICH: (Foreign language spoken).

CARBERRY: Today, the destitute Hamza lives in a guest house at the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation in Kabul. He continues to push the U.N. and Afghan government for legal status, but responses from Afghan officials often sound like this.

KHALICOVICH: (Through translator) Why the hell are you seeking asylum here because this country is already suffering. Why it's a good option for you?

CARBERRY: He admits it isn't a good option, but Tajikistan canceled citizenship for people who are away from the country for more than five years. That's why he's been trying to form an association to help the estimated 100 refugees in Afghanistan. Most hope to be resettled elsewhere.

On one September morning, Hamza and five asylum seekers meet with parliamentarian Qazi Nazir Ahmad Hanafi. Hanafi is sympathetic to their plight. He wants to pass an asylum law. So does Minister of Refugees Jamaher Anwari.


CARBERRY: Anwari says that his office sent a draft law to the Ministry of Justice, which says it's simply not a priority, which is why people like 51-year-old Mohammed Hassan Ibrahim continue to live in limbo. He was a farmer in Iraqi Kurdistan who fled during the Iran-Iraq War in the late '80s.

MOHAMMED HASSAN IBRAHIM: (Foreign language spoken).

CARBERRY: After a brief stint in Pakistan, Ibrahim says he moved to Afghanistan to register with the U.N. Since then, he's been jailed, held by the Taliban and bounced around underground houses.

IBRAHIM: (Through translator) I'm like a prisoner here. I have no income, and my family is suffering.

CARBERRY: Ibrahim's passport was stolen long ago. He says all he has is a letter from the U.N. saying he's a refugee and that he shouldn't be forcibly returned to Iraq. Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sean Carberry is NPR's international correspondent based in Kabul. His work can be heard on all of NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.
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