Amid World Cup euphoria, Afghan refugees on Delhi's streets swing between hope and despair

Away from euphoria that has gripped the cricket community and those who still call Afghanistan their home, there is a set of people who don't really know what to make of this great day for their country.
Last Updated : 25 June 2024, 14:24 IST

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New Delhi: Little Romil Wakil is all of five and he loves playing cricket with his 15-year-old brother Idris although he has no idea who Rashid Khan is.

Idris knows but he didn't get a chance to watch the heroics of the most recognisable Afghan cricketer in the world as he steered the war-torn country's team to its greatest day -- a maiden march into the semi-final of the T20 World Cup in far off West Indies.

Away from euphoria that has gripped the cricket community and those who still call Afghanistan their home, there is a set of people who don't really know what to make of this great day for their country.

Idris is among these refugees, who are struggling to make ends meet and survive the oppressive Delhi summer, wondering how their next meal will be arranged.

Where is the time to check cricket scores in this battle for survival? Asked if he celebrated after Afghanistan beat Bangladesh by eight runs to enter the last-four stage, also knocking out the mighty Australians while doing so, Idris' cynicism was tragic for a 15-year-old.

"Celebrations! How can I watch cricket? Me and my family are languishing at this Vasant Vihar footpath. We are fighting for resettlement. There is no joy in our lives, how will I watch cricket?" said the youngster, who seems to have grown up a little too early.

His elder sisters, mother, aunt and little brother watched him as he narrated the family's ordeal. They lived in South Delhi's Bhogal area not so long ago but were "thrown out" for not being able to pay their rent.

They now sitting in front of the United Nations High Commissioner Office for Refugees (UNHCR) in Vasant Vihar, hoping for some assistance.

"Will cricket ease our pain? We sit on the road and someone pours a bucket full of water on us as if we are street dogs. The police then comes, takes us along and then tells us to leave in the evenings. You want us to celebrate a cricket win?" another refugee Husna, wearing a black face mask vented out her ire.

"It is about life and death for us so even if I feel happy, it doesn't make any difference to our lives," added Idris, who had to quit school after being displaced from his country following the Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan in 2021.

The asylum and resettlement isn't an easy process and when PTI sought a response from UNHCR, an automated reply stated: "Registration and/or recognition of refugee status by UNHCR does not necessarily mean that the individual will be referred for resettlement. Resettlement is not a right. It is also not an application-based process." "We can't go back. Taliban or their spies will kill us," Idris said with a cold look in his eyes.

But then there is Fazal Bari, who works in a restaurant in Lajpat Nagar, a place teeming with Afghans, who believes that this victory will change the image of the Taliban-ruled nation.

"I watched each and every match. Obviously Rashid Khan and Gulbadin Naib are my favourite cricketers. Cricket is everything in Afghanistan. My brothers are sending me videos of how people are celebrating this win.

"It is a World T20 semi-final. It would definitely have a positive impact on the image of our nation," Bari said.

He also narrated the circumstances that forced him to leave the country in 2021.

"I didn't like the uncertainty and unrest. It didn't suit me and I came to India and I am happy. A lot of people, who left the country in the middle of unrest had a far worse experience.

"But things have now stabilised in Afghanistan with a stable government. One day, I would like to go back to my homeland," Fazal said with a touch of longing in his voice.

His friend Mohammed Ismail couldn't hide the jubilation and recalled how meeting Rashid in Delhi was one of the happiest days of his life.

"My favourite player is Rahmanullah Gurbaz but it was great meeting Rashid Khan. I am praying for an India versus Afghanistan final," he smiled.

Asked if he supports sports for the women of his country, who have been barred from competing after Taliban's return, Ismail said, "I would like sisters of our country to get equal opportunity." Doesn't he miss Afghanistan? "Not really. I am happy here. Yes, I won't mind visiting if the visa process doesn't become tedious," Ismail said.

Sitting 13,562km away in Arnos Vale, Rashid, Gulbadin or Mohammed Nabi wouldn't know about these refugees with different dreams and divergent perspectives.

Kabul, Kandahar or Khost is in their hearts but Delhi is what they want to call home.

Published 25 June 2024, 14:24 IST

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