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Syria’s Afghan Refugees Trapped in a Double Crisis

There are around 2,000 Afghans living in Syria. Most are Shiites and belong to the Hazara ethnic group. Their migration to Syria occurred in several small waves, with most fleeing Afghanistan to escape ethno-religious persecution and a few settling in the country after their pilgrimage to the holy Shiite sites in the country. Most Afghan refugees and settlers in Syria are based in and around the capital Damascus.

As the armed conflict has been raging in Syria for about two years, these refugees have suffered violence, threats and forced displacement. The ordeal began in July last year when violence spread to the Syeda Zainab area around Damascus. The Afghan refugees were evicted from the area by force, and they live in makeshift shelters facing dire conditions now, according to the refugees.

The Syrian conflict’s broad Alawite vs. non-Alawite dimension means the rebels identify the Afghan Shiites as being close to the Alawites — and therefore close to the Assad regime. But the Afghan refugees are claiming neutrality, which not only denies them the protection of the Alawite government but also makes the Alawite population suspicious and hostile towards them. They are caught in a trap. And, to make matters worse, the Afghan refugees are easily identifiable by their Asiatic features and foreign accents, making them easy targets for attacks by all sides.

As the violence in Syria drags on while the international community puzzles over a viable solution, these Afghan refugees in Syria are calling for help. UN Dispatch received a letter from the Afghan-Syrian community detailing violence and discrimination motivated by religious, racial and political differences. The letter warns of a disaster if the situation goes unaddressed.

We withhold the identity of the correspondent of the letter for safety reasons, but publish excepts from it. The writer is not a native english speaker, but the urgency of his or her pleas come through quite clearly.

With all due respect,

We, the Afghan Refugees [in Syria], hope to [...] solve part of our problems and critical conditions by sharing it with you as fellow-creatures and those who care about humanity and oppressed people all over the world via this open letter.

The letter details incidents of torture, religious persecution and other violence, including deaths and injuries from mortar shells.

[T]he current situation of Afghan Refugees in the time of the conflict in Syria is a serious an exceptional condition. Afghan Refugees are victimized of torture and they have been threatened just because they are different and they believe in a religion as called “Shiite”. Still one Afghan Refugee has been shouted as she was in a serious condition at hospital, several Afghan Refugees has been captured just because they are “Shiite”! three days ago on 5/1/2013 two young Afghan refugees who was 17 and 18 years old they killed by mortar and 7 others where seriously injured.

The refugees forcefully evicted from the Syeda Zainab area face dire conditions:

Now it is about for 6 months we are staying at Hotels and buildings, some Refugees houses has been stolen and some of them burned and destroyed. Till now some Refugees who trying to take some their stuff from their houses they have been captured and some of them have been threatened.

Some have tried to flee Syria into Turkey, but their fate remains uncertain:

Some Refugees because of well[-founded] fear and feeling unsafe they have been to independently smuggle themselves illegally toward of Turkey till now no one knows what happened to them, they left Syria without of any value document only they had the UNHCR Refugee certificate.

Therefore, still several times we have contacted the UNHCR office in Damascus but unfortunately still we are living in the same situation….UNHCR office always declares that they are not able to help regarding the residency documents and they cannot offer any assistance to solve this problem at all…

The letter warns of a humanitarian crisis if the community’s concerns aren’t heeded:

even it is possible [that] if…our serious condition [is not solved], it will happen a serious disaster and also most other Refugees will chose to independently smuggle themselves out of Syria while itself it can be a serious human disaster because they will trying to go out without of passport, visa and any other valuable document

Most Afghan refugees don’t have the proper travel documents, so they face serious challenges as they attempt to flee the country,  including arrests by authorities who are increasingly suspicious of undocumented outsiders:

as most Afghan Refugees they entered Syria illegally and they are lack of Syrian residence permit . As a result, still some Refugees have been arrested in the way between Damascus and Aleppo toward of Turkey.

Most Afghan refugees in Syria have attempted to smuggle themselves out, but the ones who remain have nowhere to go because the UNHCR cannot assist them and the authorities are cracking down. The letter says women and children are most vulnerable and warns that a potential humanitarian disaster might occur if the situation is not resolved:

Now, from a large number of Afghan Refugees only remaining those who are that even they are not able to fled, they are just waiting for the assistance of UNHCR, or they will be the sacrifice of torture just because they are the oppressed people and they don’t have any other shelter in order to be survive!

we are living in a serious bad conditions such as illegal status problems, security, and the unknown future.

But our main problems is the security problem as we are not able to protect of our children and women who are fall under a serious condition.

It has become unbearable for us to continue living in Syria. And most of the afghan Refugees are illegal in Syria…and in current situation we face serious legal problems and other kinds of problems because of not having legal residency…and with having this problem we are not able to continue living safely at all, especially in the current unrest situation where the security forces has become very strict in looking for the illegal residents and arrest them and then deport them. As still several cases happened.

Best regards,
Afghan Refugees, Damascus Syria


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