Many Afghan nationals protesting outside UNHCR’s office in Vasant Vihar, Delhi, are women who have been spending day and night for the past nine days along with their kids and elderly parents in scorching heat and occasional rain. You can see mosquito bites all over the faces of the kids. Now, their presence here has created a bit of an unease in this tony neighbourhood mostly because of Covid fears and because the UNHCR office lies in a relatively congested lane of houses.
Some of these Afghan people I spoke to tell me that they are unable to pay rent because most of them are out of their typical gig jobs. One of them used to facilitate medical tourists from Afghanistan ((Sodaba, see pic above). Since nobody is coming these days to India from her country for treatment, she hasn’t been earning at all. There are also complaints of landlords raising rent (at a time when home rents in Delhi have fallen) knowing well that Afghan people cannot leave anytime soon because of the crisis back home.
The problem can be easily solved if UNHCR officials meet them and listen to their grievances. Instead, their office remains shut. They seem scared of meeting these hapless people seeking their refugee cards many years after spending their time here in India. Technically, they cannot even get a SIM card without a refugee card. Afghan people are also upset that UNHCR is painfully slow in processing their requests for asylum and probably citizenship in western countries that have opened their doors for displaced people from Afghanistan. These people say that they don’t want jobs here because they expect local people to turn against them if they continue to live here and take away the opportunities of Indians. Religion is one of the major hurdles they see in being permanent residents here. They say they don’t want to attract any hostile behaviour from Indian people who have given them shelter here so far. But they sense that a largescale migration will create a social disequilibrium. I think they are right about that.
UNHCR remains unreachable and they don’t even respond to email queries from journalists. Not even their officials in Geneva. How strange!