Refugees return home: The changing face of Afghanistan

Many refugees have begun to come back to Afghanistan. Baghran credits their parents for bringing them up with a sense of peace and comfort, even as their fathers struggled to feed them and keep them alive. Sitting on the floor of a local pharmacy, Abdulqadir, 25, recalls one afternoon when he returned home and went into the courtyard to chat with his father. As he went to shake his hand, he was approached by some bandits. “I was 14 years old at the time,” he says. They robbed him of the four jackets he was wearing. “Now my father is the proud father of a young man who was very brave,” he says.

Children displaced by civil war and fighting between Taliban and U.S.-backed forces are also returning to cities like Mazar-i-Sharif. At the forefront of the UN’s appeal is the ministry of refugees, now under UNICEF. It is a challenging task, helped in no small part by the fact that funding to support IDPs is rarely timely. “Many of these children did not have enough to eat for two years,” Majid Shermal Ahmadzai, an advisor to the deputy minister, explains. Many of the children who were able to return to their cities are able to stay at school and recover. “Many were also able to provide their families with food, shelter, and clothing,” he explains. This past September, the Ministry of Refugees invited Afghan families to apply for IDP refugee status to enable them to access health care and education, and prepare themselves for life in their cities.

UNICEF offers schools at an affordable cost for returning parents, who do not usually have the resources to send their children to school. But Abdulqadir, the breadwinner at the family pharmacy, shares a similar view of his mother’s and father’s generation as one where people were able to work in the fields and share in the vegetables he grew and sold in the family market. “They had a lot of room,” he says. “Not only could they work, but they also played. I think that was the main reason why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

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