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Band on a Run: Afghan refugees making some noise in New Delhi

News Stories, 21 October 2010

© UNHCR/N.Bose
Yuva Beats perform in New Delhi on World Refugee Day.

NEW DELHI, India, October 21 (UNHCR) A former humanitarian aid worker and journalist in Afghanistan, Khalid has found a new vocation as a band manager in India and a new purpose to his life.

"This is my mission to work with the boys, create hope for them and to help people find their potential, whether they are in their country or not," Khalid told UNHCR as the Afghan refugee band, Yuva Beats, rehearsed behind him in a Delhi basement.

But just a few months ago, after fleeing his native Kabul and finding shelter in the Indian capital, he was finding it difficult to cope with life as a refugee and fell into a deep depression. "I was completely disillusioned. I thought my life had ended," the 30-year-old revealed.

Managing the band in his spare time has helped restore his confidence and made him realise that even if he cannot return home, he could use his skills to make the best of things in exile. "I could contribute. I gave my ideas as a director and I could spot talent," explained Khalid, who supports his wife and two young children by managing guest houses for their Indian owners.

And judging by the growing interest in Yuva Beats, the seven-member group certainly has talent. One of India's leading private news channels, CNN-IBN, has aired a profile on the versatile band, which plays a mixture of Hindi, English, Farsi and Dari songs. They are also having a go at composing their own music.

Khalid spotted them in a talent contest organized by a youth club that UNHCR and its local partner, Don Bosco Ashayalam, supported. Playing music remains a pastime for the group members, and they give free concerts for refugee youth groups and on World Refugee Day on June 20.

For now, they just want a place to jam and provide some pleasure to other Afghans and supportive Indians. But Khalid hopes to cut a demo tape for a record company and publicise the band. "I want Yuva Beats to become the heartbeat of every refugee around the world."

Wais, who sings and plays acoustic guitar, has composed the band's only original music love songs in Dari. "Music energizes me. It takes away my tiredness. I compose music to take away my sadness," says the 24-year-old, who has been in New Delhi for three years and lives with his mother and brothers.

Before joining Yuva Beats, he'd done a bit of busking outside southern Delhi shopping centres, where people were surprised to hear an Afghan singing songs in Hindi. "People have told me to make a record, but this is a hobby for me," he said.

Rahmatullah is the lead singer of Yuva Beats. He studied to be an artist in Kabul, but has always had a deep interest in music, which was banned in Afghanistan during the rule of the Taliban from 1996-2001.

In his homeland, Rahmatullah used to sing traditional Afghan songs at weddings in Kabul, as did the drummer, Haider. The band is a very important part of any Afghan wedding, with people dancing to the music.

Now the two have an audience, rather than forming the background music. "I can't explain how I feel when I hold the microphone in my hand and have a hall full of people clapping. I never expected this. Now, people know me as a singer," said a grinning Rahmatullah, who arrived in New Delhi last year with his mother.

And he is now looking for a teacher to teach him about Indian classical music. He hopes to one day take part in the Sa Re Ga Ma Challenge, India's top music talent contest.

Making music is very much a hobby for the band members and their manager and they still need to work to make ends meet. Rahmatullah, for example, sells his sketches in the local markets, and Waiss is an interpreter.

But it's their music that really keeps them going and, with luck, they might one day emulate the success of another band formed in exile: Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars.

By Nayana Bose in New Delhi, India




UNHCR country pages

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

The Reality of Return in Afghanistan

Beyond the smiles of homecoming lie the harsh realities of return. With more than 5 million Afghans returning home since 2002, Afghanistan's absorption capacity is reaching saturation point.

Landmine awareness training at UNHCR's encashment centres – their first stop after returning from decades in exile – is a sombre reminder of the immense challenges facing this war-torn country. Many returnees and internally displaced Afghans are struggling to rebuild their lives. Some are squatting in tents in the capital, Kabul. Basic needs like shelter, land and safe drinking water are seldom met. Jobs are scarce, and long queues of men looking for work are a common sight in marketplaces.

Despite the obstacles, their spirit is strong. Returning Afghans – young and old, women and men – seem determined to do their bit for nation building, one brick at a time.

Posted on 31 January 2008

The Reality of Return in Afghanistan

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