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Refugees Magazine Issue 107 (Refugee voices from exile) - An optimist against the odds

Refugees Magazine Issue 107 (Refugee voices from exile) - An optimist against the odds
Refugees (107, I - 1997)

1 March 1997
Teacher Amir Khan was forced into internal exile in Afghanistan but optimistically believes "where a stream once flowed, water will run again"

The war in the north-western Afghan province of Badghis, which broke out at the end of 1996, drove tens of thousands of people into internal exile, both in their home province, and into neighbouring Herat. Semi-nomadic, and almost wholly Pashtoon, many of them sought refuge in one of three camps established by UNHCR in Herat city. Amir Mohamed Khan arrived in the largest of these, Shaidai, in December 1996. This is his story:

Interview by Arafat Jamal and Hasan Kayhan

I come from a town in Badghis called Jahan Dusti, which means "world friendship." I owned 180 sheep and 40 acres of land where I cultivated cotton with government support. I taught Pashto and Dari in the local primary school and felt that, before the communist era began, my fortunes were improving day by day.

But then the revolution came. The new government flooded the countryside with teachers, provoking a peasant backlash which eventually forced me to abandon my profession and flee the district. The new communist authorities at the time insisted that anyone who was not their ally was an enemy and so, though I was not in total agreement with them, I joined the anti-Soviet mujaheddin. Because I was educated I was sent on a number of missions to buy weapons.

We were happy when the communists fell, and for a time we prospered. But the mujaheddin began to fight among themselves, and we found ourselves again in the middle of another war. Two factions used our region as a battlefield, and I disliked them both.

Then the Taliban came, and for a time we were happy again. But their troops suddenly left our village and we fled, this time fearing the advance of the Uzbeks.We left most of our possessions and some of our weak people. As we crossed the Murghab river several children died. We walked for several days until we reached the Khushk region where I sold my remaining livestock for a pittance. I rented a lorry to transport my extended family and myself to Herat where I knew I would be able to receive assistance from the United Nations.

Compared to my life in Badghis, my existence in Shaidai camp is nothing. But when I recall our harrowing journey to Herat, I am thankful. There is not much employment here, although one of my eight children works as a labourer in the city. I assist the Médecins Sans Frontières in its home visitor sanitation and health programme, and am looking forward to resuming my former profession as a teacher in a UNHCR primary education programme in the camp.

When I think of the bad actions of our leaders, I feel that the future is not good. But my faith teaches me not to be discouraged, and I console myself by recalling the saying: 'where a stream once flowed, water will run again.'

Source: Refugees Magazine Issue 107 (1997)