New Delhi – One recent afternoon on a busy street in south Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar neighborhood — known as “Little Kabul” for its sizable Afghan population — Abdul Kahar was busily wrapping burgers at his food stall while customers scrambled to get in line for a taste of his authentic Afghan offerings.
Kahar, 38, an Afghan refugee, runs this small Afghan burger stall near businesses ranging from restaurants and pharmacies to supermarkets owned by people from the war-torn country. Compared to the rest of the sprawling Indian capital, Little Kabul has a distinct feel, with Afghan people speaking Pashto and wearing traditional Pathani shalwar-kameez mingling with Indians, who come from all over the city for its renowned restaurants.
But a pall was cast over the bustling area following the Taliban’s lightning-fast takeover of the Afghanistan government last month, as many Afghans living here face an uncertain future in their adopted country while also harboring feelings of guilt and anguish for loved ones they left behind.
Kahar moved to India five years ago with his wife and children to start a new life, leaving his mother and siblings behind. He lost his father, a police officer, who was killed in the line of duty after a bomb attack carried out by the Taliban.
“For months I couldn’t cope … with his loss but then I realized my children don’t deserve to grow up in fear and anxiety,” Kahar said. “So for their sake, I left everything behind in Afghanistan and moved here.”
Kahar’s children still ask him when they might be able to return home. He used to tell them it would be soon.
“Now with the Taliban in control, I have no answer for them,” he said. “I avoid talking about the current situation in Afghanistan with my family, but my heart is always concerned about the well-being of my people and motherland.”
Because of the Taliban takeover, which came as the United States withdrew its troops following a 20-year war, around 500,000 people will be forced to flee by the end of the year, according to the United Nations.
India, which is not a signatory to the 1951 U.N. Convention on Refugees and has no specific laws covering their status, follows an uncertain policy toward refugees but does grant asylum to large numbers of people from neighboring countries. It handles individual cases based on factors such as diplomatic ties with the refugee’s country and the political atmosphere of the time.
According to U.N. figures from 2020, India hosts around 16,000 Afghan refugees. Given the crisis in Afghanistan, India is offering an emergency visa to those looking to find refuge in the country that is initially valid for six months. The government has indicated it will decide at a later date whether to extend that period.
Like Kahar, many Afghan refugees come to India in the hopes of living a more peaceful life. Most of them have settled in Lajpat Nagar, an area that was originally built to accommodate Hindu and Sikh refugees arriving from Pakistan following the Partition of India in 1947.
Views among Indian citizens toward refugees are mixed, with some local media platforms pushing negative narratives concerning asylum-seekers.
Still, the benefits of immigration are not lost on those who make the trip to Little Kabul, where authentic Afghan restaurants and food stalls such as Abdul’s bring in local people and Afghans alike.
“I endorse the intake of refugees. They are coming here because they do not feel safe in their home country,” said Shrikanth GV during a recent visit to the area. “Sadly, in India refugees are not very much welcomed and often used for political gains.”
It’s not just refugees and long-term residents who face an uncertain future thanks to the Taliban takeover. Thousands of Afghan students are studying in India with the support of scholarships from an Indian governmental organization. Most of them reside in New Delhi.
Following the takeover, many are anxious over what their futures hold and are unsure of when or if they can safely return.
Sakeena, 21, landed in New Delhi just a few months ago to study, but is now left in limbo.
“I left my home and came to India to fulfill my dream of pursuing education — and as a girl, it was a big achievement for me,” said Sakeena, who asked that her real name be withheld due to concerns for her safety. “After completing my education, I had planned to return back and serve my country, but now I am skeptical about my dreams if Taliban continues to remain in power.
“Even if I get a chance to return back to Afghanistan I won’t be able to get a job keeping in view the attitude of Taliban towards women, but I will represent the women of Afghanistan in whichever part of world … takes me,” Sakeena said.
For Sakeena and others in a similar situation, concern for family weighs heavily.
“I haven’t slept properly … as my parents remain stuck in Kabul,” she said through teary eyes. “Every time I talk to them I try to be strong and control my emotions. Many students like me are suffering mentally and financially as we are not able to receive money from our families.”
A few kilometers away from Little Kabul, Sakhi Mohammad, 24, who hails from Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, is seated in a park and anxiously scrolling through stories on his smartphone for the latest news from his home country.
Mohammad is a recent graduate and was planning to return to Afghanistan but now feels he has no place to go. He is living in India on a student visa that will soon expire.
Since the Taliban took over, Mohammad has not been able to receive any financial help from his family and he hasn’t been able to find work due to his nationality. With each passing day, his desperation to find a job grows.
“I consider India as my second home, but securing a job is not easy as employers prefer Indians over foreign nationals,” Mohammad said. “I am in desperate need of a job so I can reside in India for a longer period — or else I have no idea what is coming for me.”
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