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Afghans optimistic about a bright new life in Land of the Long White Cloud

News Stories, 28 February 2007

© UNHCR/N.Bose
An Afghan refugee family wait to board a plane from New Delhi to their new home, New Zealand.

NEW DELHI, Indian, February 28 (UNHCR) Fourteen-year-old Fayaz* sat in front of a computer at a New Delhi internet café, waiting impatiently for photographs to download from the website of New Zealand's national tourism organisation.

Along with his family, he was about to start a new life in the distant South Pacific nation and he wanted to find out as much as possible about this alien, largely rural country also known as the Land of the Long White Cloud.

"It is very beautiful and clean," he said after poring over images of towering snow-capped mountains, rivers, wild coastlines, golden beaches and pristine forests and fiords. Less than a month later, on January 17, he was flying to Auckland where he and his family are now among a group of 47 Afghans taking part in a six-week orientation course after being accepted for resettlement.

It's a long way literally and figuratively from his birthplace, India, and his homeland, Afghanistan, which Fayaz only knows about through stories told by his parents and what he sees on television. But he and the other youngsters in the group will likely adjust more easily to a new culture and country than the elder members of this batch of 10 families, the first to be picked for resettlement by a pioneering team sent from New Zealand.

The two New Zealand immigration officials were in India from late September to early October and interviewed 337 Afghan refugees whose names had been submitted by UNHCR. Some 200 have been accepted for resettlement to date and a second departure of around 100 people will take place in March.

"The governments of New Zealand and India have cooperated closely with UNHCR to make this day possible. The speed with which these families have been assisted for departure is remarkable," said Carol Batchelor, UNHCR's acting chief of mission in India. "These refugees now have a place to call home and to build a secure future," she added.

Some of the refugees had been in India for more than 20 years, like Fayaz's parents who fled Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation of the 1980s. Others came during the 1990s, when Afghanistan was first wracked by civil war and then under the harsh Islamic rule of the Taliban, who were ousted in late 2001.

But while democracy has returned to the country, many Afghan refugees cannot repatriate because clan and ethnic affiliations still make it insecure to go home, while others no longer have any family ties in the country and some are in mixed marriages. On top of this, the Taliban continue to fight Afghan government and foreign forces in the south and east.

And while the refugees have good things to say about India, they face restrictions in the country, including difficulties finding work, no prospect of getting citizenship unless they are Sikhs or Hindus from Afghanistan and limited access to first-class education for their children. These were factors that made them candidates for resettlement, though none knew where they might end up.

Like Saeeda*, a single mother of four children. "I have not seen photographs of New Zealand. Not even in my dreams did I imagine that I would go there," the 46-year-old said, adding: "We're happy to go wherever for our children. It's all fate, destiny."

Javed*, 33, also had the interests of his four children uppermost in his mind. "Our lives were ruined because we became refugees. I want to ensure that my children will never be refugees again," he said, while admitting it would be difficult leaving India for somewhere he knew so little about. "We will never forget India."

The younger members of the group had less emotional baggage. They looked forward excitedly to the future and the chance to make something of their lives. Mariam, 23, said she would miss Indian food, her friends and Bollywood movies, but she looked forward to a good education and job and to no longer being labelled a refugee.

The promise of a better standard of life is what makes resettlement so attractive for Mariam and 28-year-old Vazira*, who wants to study to become a human rights lawyer. That ambition brings cheer to her father, 67-year-old Ahmad*, but he was worried that he would find it hard to adjust. "My life is over," he said. It takes courage to start again.

* Names have been changed at the request of the interviewees

By Nayana Bose in New Delhi, India




UNHCR country pages


An alternative for those who cannot go home, made possible by UNHCR and governments.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Between February and October 2011, more than 1 million people crossed into Tunisia to escape conflict in Libya. Most were migrant workers who made their way home or were repatriated, but the arrivals included refugees and asylum-seekers who could not return home or live freely in Tunisia.

UNHCR has been trying to find solutions for these people, most of whom ended up in the Choucha Transit Camp near Tunisia's border with Libya. Resettlement remains the most viable solution for those registered as refugees at Choucha before a cut-off date of December 1, 2011.

As of late April, 14 countries had accepted 2,349 refugees for resettlement, 1,331 of whom have since left Tunisia. The rest are expected to leave Choucha later this year. Most have gone to Australia, Norway and the United States. But there are a more than 2,600 refugees and almost 140 asylum-seekers still in the camp. UNHCR continues to advocate with resettlement countries to find solutions for them.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Afghanistan: Rebuilding a War-Torn Country

The cycle of life has started again in Afghanistan as returnees put their shoulders to the wheel to rebuild their war-torn country.

Return is only the first step on Afghanistan's long road to recovery. UNHCR is helping returnees settle back home with repatriation packages, shelter kits, mine-awareness training and vaccination against diseases. Slowly but surely, Afghans across the land are reuniting with loved ones, reconstructing homes, going back to school and resuming work. A new phase in their lives has begun.

Watch the process of return, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction unfold in Afghanistan through this gallery.

Afghanistan: Rebuilding a War-Torn Country

Rebuilding Lives in Afghanistan

With elections scheduled in October, 2004 is a crucial year for the future of Afghanistan, and Afghans are returning to their homeland in record numbers. In the first seven months of 2004 alone, more than half a million returned from exile. In all, more than 3.6 million Afghans have returned since UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme started in 2002.

The UN refugee agency and its partner organisations are working hard to help the returnees rebuild their lives in Afghanistan. Returnees receive a grant to cover basic needs, as well as access to medical facilities, immunisations and landmine awareness training.

UNHCR's housing programme provides tool kits and building supplies for families to build new homes where old ones have been destroyed. The agency also supports the rehabilitation of public buildings as well as programmes to rehabilitate the water supply, vocational training and cash-for-work projects.

Rebuilding Lives in Afghanistan

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