Afghan Refugees in Tajikistan

by Christian Bleuer on 3/27/2010 · 5 comments

Aside from RFE/RL there is little non-Central Asian or non-Russian reporting from Central Asia. But on occasion, Al Jazeera English makes a foray into the area. Recently they filed a report from Vaghdad, Tajikistan (they pronounced it like Baghdad in Arabic). A quick look at the mountains and the general location given lets us know that it is Vahdat (i.e., Wahdat to all you Dari or Farsi speakers). The subject of the day is Afghan refugees in Tajikistan, in a video report titled Influx of Refugees Worries Tajiks.

In the report they speak to one Afghan woman whose husband abandoned the family and whose children get harassed when they try to work in the local bazaar. The reporter notes that they get by mostly on bread, tea and some veggies. Those of you familiar with Tajikistan know that this describes a decent percentage of the local population. Their neighbors are not dining on roast lamb every night. And the fact that local kids are also hustling for menial jobs in the bazaar is also quite obvious. There is not enough work to go around and I’m not surprised that locals are unhappy to see Afghan kids trying to work there.

The UNHCR rep in the report is quite right to be concerned. Tajikistan is not Pakistan or Iran and is not equipped to handle many refugees. But will his concerns about a possible northern surge in Afghanistan result in a flood of refugees to Tajikistan? If an offensive materializes I expect IDPs, not refugees. NATO/ISAF forces have been telegraphing their offensives and giving locals some amount of time to move out of the way. Of course, predicting flows of refugees/IDPs is far from a science, so hopefully the UNHCR will get the help it needs to at least be prepared.

As for the government of Tajikistan, I think it has its hands full. Refugees are one of many issues in the country that it is ill-equipped to handle. And the comment in the video about Tajikistan owing a debt to the Afghan people for it hosting refugees from Tajikistan in the 1990s? Well, the refugees were overwhelmingly Gharmi Tajiks from the southern Vakhsh valley. I can’t think of a ‘group’ with less ability than them to pay back any sort of debt (think poverty). So whatever assistance is rendered is going to need to come from international sources.

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Robin Forestier-Walker March 29, 2010 at 4:23 am

Thanks for your comments Christian. As a freelance based in Almaty I am trying to get more Central Asia stories onto Al Jazeera English. But for now they have no permanent bureau here.

Christian Bleuer March 29, 2010 at 8:31 am

I didn’t know you were based in the region. Glad to hear that. And thanks for actually going up the Rasht valley. I’ve only ever seen Tajik or Russian TV do that.

DE Teodoru March 29, 2010 at 8:14 pm
DT March 31, 2010 at 6:33 am
Christian Bleuer March 31, 2010 at 8:02 pm

Whoops. I re-read my first sentence. I meant to refer to reporting from Tajikistan, not Central Asia as a whole.

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