One such refugee is Rangeen, who goes by only one name, as is common in Afghanistan. He’s lived in Pakistan since he was 12 and is a registered refugee. Three times he’s tried to move back to his native Kabul, the Afghan capital, but he’s found it too costly to live there.
“I couldn’t find work in Kabul, and it is very expensive there, so each time I was forced to come back” to Pakistan, Rangeen said. “I’m just a laborer. It is not possible to survive in Kabul on what you make as a laborer there.”
Rangeen earns around 200 rupees a day, about $2, by working as a porter at a wholesale vegetable market just outside Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, pushing cartloads of produce around for buyers. His determination not to go to Afghanistan is all the more striking given the difficulties of life in his adopted home. None of his four children go to school, nor do any of the other children in Sorang Abadi, the makeshift village where he lives, a 15-minute drive south of the capital.
Looking at his 7-year-old son, Noor Agha, Rangeen said: “He will suffer the same fate as me. All he’ll be able to do is push a cart.”
Villagers in Sorang Abadi pay about $15 a month in rent for just enough land to construct one ramshackle room, from baked mud, and keep a small yard. There’s no electricity or running water; they fetch water from a timber yard about 15 minutes’ walk away. They haven’t been able to find space at a semiofficial refugee camp that’s about four miles away.
Mukhtiar, from Baghlan Province in the north of Afghanistan, which is considered relatively safe, said he’d been in Pakistan for 30 years.
“We won’t go to Afghanistan. There is nothing but war,” he said. “After the Russians got out, the Americans came. Whatever we had back there has been taken over by others. There is no work, no property, nothing there except feuds.
“It would be like throwing us into the sea.”