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Emotional Farewells as Afghan Families Depart Pakistan

Jannat Bibi's family awaits buses to depart for Afghanistan, Oct. 25, 2023. (Photo by Sidra Dar)
Jannat Bibi's family awaits buses to depart for Afghanistan, Oct. 25, 2023. (Photo by Sidra Dar)

It was an emotional scene at Sohrab Goth bus terminal when Jannat Bibi, a 50-year-old Afghan woman, bid farewell to the only home her children have ever known. After 35 years in Karachi, she and her eight children were making the difficult journey back to Afghanistan.

The terminal has become a hub for Afghan families forced to leave Pakistan because of a government mandate. Authorities have given a deadline of November 1 for those without legal documentation to leave or face forced eviction.

Jannat, her daughters draped in black Burqas, stood anxiously awaiting their departure. As the minutes ticked away, her son kept them updated on the bus's schedule. They were hesitant to sit on the rough floor, not wanting to soil their clothes.

Jannat shared her family's struggle, highlighting the abruptness of the decision. "We spent our entire lives in Pakistan. I got married here. My children were born here. ... Now they have suddenly decided that we cannot live in this country."

The lack of legal documentation further complicated their situation. "When my family reached Pakistan [35 years ago], some of my family members were able to get cards after much struggle. Some of us were never able to get cards. My husband and I were one of those people," Jannat explained.

The tipping point for Jannat was the repeated arrests of her two sons. Fearful for their safety, she made the painful decision to return to Afghanistan. She had to sell their home and belongings at a fraction of their value, taking only their essentials.

Her daughter, Khanum, expressed her sorrow about leaving behind the life they had built. "Even before the Taliban took control of Kabul, two years ago, my elders did not think about going back to Afghanistan. We were happy here," she lamented.

A loaded bus gets ready to depart for Afghanistan, Oct. 25, 2023. (Photo by Sidra Dar)
A loaded bus gets ready to depart for Afghanistan, Oct. 25, 2023. (Photo by Sidra Dar)

The uncertainty of their destination weighed heavily on many families. Fatima, a 21-year-old resident of Mominabad, Karachi, grappled with the reality of leaving behind everything she held dear. "You ask anyone here why they are going back [to Afghanistan], they will tell you the same: the police will arrest our men, our sons and take them to prison, so we are leaving from here."

As the departure time approached, emotions ran high. Families embraced, tears flowed, and prayers were whispered for safety and blessings. Jannat's final words resonated, "You heard our pain. I'll remember you always."

Several buses, bound for the Chaman border, stood ready to carry families on their journey into an uncertain future. Fatima and her sister, engaged in a last-minute plea to keep a small wooden box of cherished mementos, spoke volumes about the sacrifices they were making.

The departure of Jannat Bibi and countless others from the only home they've ever known is a poignant reminder of the challenges faced by Afghan refugees. As they embark on this new chapter, they carry with them the weight of their past and the hope for a brighter tomorrow.

This story originated in VOA's Urdu Service.