Pakistani TV delves into lives of Afghan refugees

A just-concluded weekly television show highlights the challenges of life in exile while celebrating the culture and traditions of Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

Nauman Ali Khan, TV host, interviewing an Afghan in Peshawar.   © UNHCR/R.Ali

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, April 30 (UNHCR) - A Pakistan-produced TV programme on Afghan refugees has opened the eyes of both locals and refugees to what life is like in exile.

Titled "Kadwal Jowand" ("The Life of Refugees" in Pashto, a common language along the Pakistan-Afghan border), the weekly half-hour programme was produced by AVT Khyber station and recently ended its highly successful run.

"Refugees have been living in Pakistan for almost three decades, therefore we at AVT Khyber thought that it would be a good idea to do a programme on their lives," said Nauman Ali Khan, the show's young and energetic producer-host. "The majority of the Afghans are of Pashtun ethnicity and we wanted to know how they live, what they do and what issues they face. The aim was to focus on their problems so that something could be done to help them if possible."

The Khyber team visited different refugee settlements in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and interviewed many Afghan refugees, who responded overwhelmingly and shared their problems with no hesitation.

"We used to wait anxiously for this programme," said Jan Muhammad, a 50-year-old Afghan refugee who works as a street vendor and has been living in Pakistan for more than two decades. "I used to enjoy the programme so much that I would watch it again in the repeat telecast."

He added, "It not only highlighted the problems faced by the refugees but also showed our traditions, food, culture and how we celebrate our weddings. I am grateful that Pakistani media is giving so much attention to us."

The show is equally popular among young and female Afghans. "We live in the city and therefore do not have any idea about the lives of refugees living in camps. This programme gave us the opportunity to have an insight into that," said Shukria, a young Afghan teacher.

Pakistanis, too, tuned in regularly. "The programme was the first ever attempt by a local TV channel to highlight the living conditions of Afghan refugees living in the various rural and urban settlements of Pakistan. It helped the local population to have a better understanding of the refugees' problems," said Bashir Ahmad, a Pakistani who works in UNHCR's Protection section in Peshawar.

Host Khan is satisfied with the results: "The response of the Afghans has been great. Now wherever our team goes, we are recognized and welcomed. This idea could not be materialized without the assistance or approval of high management. We have many new ideas and hopefully we will be launching other programmes as well."

AVT Khyber is currently airing a programme called "Afghanistan Ghag", or "Voice of Afghanistan". It is filmed in Afghanistan and focuses on the problems faced by Afghans living in their homeland.

Pakistan is host to more than 2 million registered Afghans, nearly two-thirds of them in NWFP. The majority are ethnic Pashtuns who speak Pashto. Less than half of the registered Afghan population lives in refugee villages where UNHCR supports primary education, basic health care and water and sanitation facilities.

By Rabia Ali in Peshawar, Pakistan