Navigating the Struggles of Afghan Refugees Resettling in India

By Muhammad Burhan

India has a long-standing tradition of providing refuge to those fleeing persecution, a reflection of its unique culture and ancient history. Over the decades, Afghan migrants have turned to India as a sanctuary from the continuous conflict in their homeland. Despite the nation’s hospitable spirit, the legal and administrative frameworks in place often fail to meet the needs of these refugees adequately.

Since the 1980s, Afghan refugees have sought asylum in India to escape violence and turmoil in Afghanistan. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are approximately 19,000 Afghan refugees in India, though only 11,000 of these are recognized as asylum-seekers. This statistic highlights the difficulties many Afghans face in obtaining official recognition and the associated privileges. Additionally, this number does not account for the 13,000 Afghan students and military trainees who were stranded in India after 2021 due to legal uncertainties. The situation worsened dramatically when the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in 2021, leading to a mass exodus of Afghans. In response to this humanitarian crisis, India issued emergency visas to Afghan nationals. However, these six-month visas came with significant restrictions, such as prohibitions on attending school or working in India. These limitations have compounded the precarious circumstances of Afghan refugees, leaving them insecure and with few opportunities to rebuild their lives. Despite the overwhelming need, only 200 e-visas were issued by December 2021 out of the 60,000 Afghans seeking asylum in India. Notably, most of these visas were granted to Hindus and Sikhs from Afghanistan, suggesting a possible bias in the selection process.

The legal treatment of Afghan refugees in India is governed by the Foreigners Act of 1946 and the Citizenship Act of 1955. These laws do not differentiate between economic migrants and those fleeing war, violence, or persecution, resulting in a lack of targeted support for those in urgent need. By labeling Afghan refugees and asylum-seekers as “illegal migrants,” these laws deny them access to essential social services and protection against refoulement (forced return to their home country where they might face persecution). This legal stance places thousands of Afghans in a vulnerable position, often leading to severe socioeconomic hardships. Many Afghans who have lived in India for over a decade continue to face significant challenges. They live on the fringes of society due to the absence of stable income, education, and healthcare. The newer generation, born and raised in India, also has limited opportunities for integration and advancement.

Recent statistics from the UNHCR, cited by the International Journal of Creative Research Thought (IJCRT) in 2023, paint a grim picture of the challenges Afghan refugees in India face. Education, crucial for human development, is accessible to only about 25 percent of Afghan refugee children in India. The closure of the Sayed Jamaluddin Afghan School in Bhogal, which educated over 200 Afghan refugee children, exemplifies the educational obstacles faced by this community. The closure has been attributed to a lack of funding and perceived indifference from the Delhi government towards Afghans, further depriving these children of their right to education.

Employment, which can offer some stability, is accessible to only about 20 percent of Afghan refugees in India. Most of these individuals are confined to low-paying, insecure jobs, barely able to support their families. Consequently, the majority of Afghan refugees in India endure persistent economic hardships. Healthcare, a fundamental human right, remains out of reach for over 50 percent of Afghan refugees in India. The lack of access to healthcare services can exacerbate existing health problems and lead to the spread of preventable diseases, especially when combined with the poor living conditions many Afghans endure. Many Afghan refugees live in substandard conditions with inadequate access to clean water and sanitation, essential for healthy living. These conditions pose serious health risks and further marginalize the Afghan community. Besides these physical hardships, Afghan refugees also face discrimination and harassment based on their ethnicity, religion, and language. Such discrimination can have profound psychological impacts, making integration into Indian society even more challenging. India’s decision to revoke the visas of Afghan students, despite thousands relying on Indian universities for their education, has been met with criticism. Such policy decisions can have long-term consequences, affecting the futures of many young Afghans. Furthermore, there appears to be a contradiction in India’s stance: while the BJP-led government’s policies are often criticized as anti-Muslim, Afghanistan identifies itself as an Islamic Emirate. This ideological divergence complicates the relationship between the two nations.

The plight of Afghan refugees in India is a multifaceted issue requiring urgent attention. Addressing the challenges faced by this community requires more than just humanitarian aid; it necessitates a comprehensive approach that respects the rights and dignity of Afghan refugees. It is crucial for India to reassess its policies and provide the necessary support to ensure that Afghan refugees can lead lives of dignity and hope in their adopted homeland. India’s rich history of providing refuge is being tested as it navigates the complex issue of Afghan refugees. A thoughtful and compassionate approach, with clear distinctions between economic migrants and those fleeing persecution, is essential. Only then can India truly uphold its tradition of hospitality and provide Afghan refugees the support they desperately need.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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