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Missing for two years, runaway boy finally back in Kabul

Missing for two years, runaway boy finally back in Kabul

In 2003, 11-year-old Jawad Hameed ran away from home, travelling some 400 km from Kabul to Islamabad. He slept in the park until he was moved to a shelter run by an Afghan women's association. He was reunited with his family this week, thanks for efforts by UNHCR and its Pakistani partner, SHARP.
17 March 2005
Jawad hugging his father in Islamabad after a two-year absence.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 17 (UNHCR) - Eleven-year-old Jawad Hameed was fed up with life in Kabul. "I used to go to school and after that I had to go to the mechanic workshop to earn some money," he explained, adding that he wished he could spend his day watching movies and playing sports instead.

His father, Abdul Hameed, recalled, "One day when I came home from work, my wife told me Jawad had not returned from the workshop. I didn't worry because sometimes his boss kept him longer when there was extra work. But the next day he told me Jawad had not come to work."

Abdul searched the city, asking relatives if they had seen his son. He spent the next two years waiting for news, not knowing if the boy was dead or alive until the UN refugee agency contacted him recently.

What happened was that Jawad had run away from home, back to Pakistan where his family had spent three years in exile in the 1990s. His father worked as an electrician and sold French fries for a living in Islamabad and Rawalpindi after fleeing Afghanistan in 1994, but took the family back to Afghanistan in 1997 due to financial problems.

Perhaps seeking remnants of his past, Jawad left Kabul and crossed the Torkham border into Peshawar. He then moved on to Islamabad and Rawalpindi, travelling nearly 400 km on his own.

For four days he lived in a park beside Rawalpindi's busy market, playing with other children during the day and sleeping in the park at night.

"At the beginning I felt very happy among other children, who played in the park. But in the night I felt scared," Jawad recalled. "One morning I was sitting on the bench alone and watching some people who were joking and doing exercise in the park when some person I didn't know came and asked me who I was and where I lived.

"I told him I was alone and my family lived in Kabul. He handed me over to the park's security guards and they called the Edhi Foundation," he said, referring to the Pakistani charity that provides humanitarian services ranging from shelter to ambulances.

After a week at the Edhi Welfare Centre in Rawalpindi, a visiting UNHCR team moved him to a shelter for runaway children managed by the Afghan charity, the Revolutionary Afghan Women's Association (RAWA). RAWA provided food and medical care and enrolled him in a formal education programme. With proper care and attention, the troubled child became a hardworking student in second grade.

Late last year, another Afghan child recognized Jawad and told the shelter's caretaker, Jan Agha, that the boy's uncle lived in Rawalpindi. Agha alerted the Society for Human Rights and Prisoners Aid (SHARP), and a team from UNHCR and SHARP brought him to his uncle, who immediately identified his missing nephew and set about contacting the family in Kabul.

On Monday, two years after his disappearance, UNHCR staff brought Jawad, now 13, from the shelter to the SHARP office in Islamabad, where his father was waiting anxiously. As the two hugged in joy, Hameed promised he would not force his son to work after school, while Jawad promised never to run away again.

By Asif Shahzad
UNHCR Pakistan