Simon Ashraf, 52
Refugee from Kabul, Afghanistan
Hidden behind posters and banners, a blue tarpaulin sheet tied to a nearby fence provides a semblance of shelter to a family of six Afghan refugees outside the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in South Delhi’s Vasant Vihar. For the past four months, this has been their home. “We need a decision on our case,” says 52-year-old Simon Ashraf, an economics teacher from Kabul speaking in broken English, with the help of his daughter Morsal, 16.
With Afghanistan continuing to be a battle zone, he adds, “We always felt there was danger to our lives. Embassies were being attacked, houses blown apart. I didn’t want my children to grow up there.”Ashraf has three other children besides Morsal — all boys, aged 22, 21 and 13. The youngest don’t go to school here but have been taking “private classes”.
Since arriving in Delhi in February, Ashraf has moved home six times, from Bhogal to Lajpat Nagar to East of Kailash, all in South Delhi, before camping here outside the UNHCR office. “My family has got the refugee certificate, but I still have a case to settle and so I am protesting. I can’t tell you what the case is here on the road,” he says, refusing to divulge anymore. He claims he is “joined by two other families in the evening who are protesting for the same cause”.
Before leaving for India, Ashraf sold his home and other precious belongings, to ensure his family “could survive in Delhi”. “We didn’t know anybody in India, but had heard in the news that many Afghans stay here. It wasn’t an easy choice but our options were limited,” he says.
Now the family huddles under a blanket in the tent at night, battling the biting December cold, holding on to the few things they carried from Kabul:
“It was cold when we came and is colder now. The blankets that we carried from Kabul have been our saviours,” says Ashraf. The family brought with them six blankets, which now lie strewn across the tent.
Ashraf has a Masters in Economics and, while leaving Kabul, his degree was one of the first things he packed. “I had to get a job and raise my family,” he says.
Though he hasn’t been able to get a permanent job in India, he makes ends meet by giving math tuitions to children of other Afghan refugees.
“Dry fruits are a must for us,” smiles Morsal. “We weren’t sure of the quality of almonds in India, so we got along two big packets of them.”
The stock ran out in the first three months, and the family has to “make do” with Indian almonds now.
“I am 16 now, but I carried with me a doll I had had since I was in Class III. But we shifted home so many times that I lost it somewhere,” says Morsal. Ashraf says he told his sons not to carry any of their sports equipment, but allowed his daughter to carry her doll.
“It was for strength,” says Ashraf. The family often visits a ‘Christian centre’ in Lajpat Nagar, where they read the Bible and pray.
“I want my children to know the Bible,” he says.