As an Afghan refugee in Europe, Kamila Geethi knows first hand what must be done to support refugee communities. And she's calling for immediate action
“How does it feel to lose everything — to come to Europe with just the old dusty clothes on your back? To arrive at the airport to find dozens of people waiting to greet you with the click of their cameras?”
I spent my early life as a refugee in Pakistan, and now — after spending 9 years back in Afghanistan — I am again a refugee, having fled Kabul for Europe in August. I have been in the Netherlands, uprooted, for more than a month now, awaiting my fate.
Throughout my life, I have experienced many of the challenges refugees face when they try to make their home in a new land. Now, from my living quarters in this strange foreign land I reflect on what must be done to support those of us who have been forced to flee.
When I returned to Afghanistan at the age of 16 in 2013, after 15 years in Pakistan, it took me years to stand on my feet and start my life anew. Every day was a battle to be recognized in my own country as an Afghan national. I had fled my country, my home back then to save my life and remain safe. Upon returning, I realized that once you are a refugee, you are a refugee for life. You have no home, no identity, fewer protections, fewer freedoms, more problems.
I made it through those struggles, only to find myself a refugee once again. After the peace deal between the Taliban and the United States, I again had to flee Afghanistan to save my life and the lives of my loved ones. On 23 August 2021, after the Taliban took control of Kabul, I was on a plane to Europe. First to Spain, now I am in Holland.
Every Afghan dreams of visiting and studying in Europe. They seek out visas 100 different ways — and few get them. But this dream destination is a nightmare when you are here as a refugee. How does it feel to lose everything — to come to Europe with just the old dusty clothes on your back? To arrive at the airport to find dozens of people waiting to greet you with the click of their cameras?
When I was working as a humanitarian aid worker and human rights activist in Afghanistan, I appreciated Europeans promoting human rights and shouting out for most vulnerable people, especially women and girls. Every day I spend in Europe I get to know that there are still people who actually have no sympathy for Afghan refugees; they don’t feel the pain we suffer. They think we have chosen to come to Europe as a refugee, and they protest against us. They have no answers to our questions when we are eager to know about our futures. Some women lost their babies in the womb to reach here; some delivered stillborn infants; some have no access to health care in the camps simply because they are refugees and they have no status. We did not choose this.
As refugees, we do not experience the privileges citizens do: We do not have the ability to pursue educational opportunities; we do not have access to health care services; and yet, we must work doubly hard to achieve our basic rights. For us, these basic rights might as well just be lines in law articles and books: they are elusive.
We are suffering from anxiety and depression. I am in pain, and I am angry. Life feels unfair, the terms ‘social justice’ and ‘human rights’ are just empty words that cannot be achieved. As refugees, we need security — not only physically but emotionally, too.
Governments and social services agencies must pay special attention to the safety and security of women refugees especially. In my experience, we are treated in the camps as we were in Afghanistan: Sharing a room with unknown men, with little privacy. We are not sleeping out of fear. We stand in a row of hundreds of people to receive one meal, we do not have access to sanitary products. Our days are difficult. We have no consistent place to live, for we are being transferred from one place to another place, and each transfer is a shock. We have little privacy and find ourselves crowded in rooms with strangers even as a fourth wave of Covid-19 peaks in Europe.
Now, it is the end of the year, and the weather is harshly cold. We wait for governments to decide our fate, with no control over our own destinies.
To those who are responsible and those who can make a difference: My people are traumatized, and we need immediate psychosocial support. We need to eat three times a day, and we need privacy and safety. We are looking ahead to an uncertain future for our children. Our family members who remain in Afghanistan are dependent on us. We worry they will die because of hunger and sickness — what will happen to them?
My people fight everyday to live our lives normally despite the problems we are facing in our new realities. Refugees are courageous, but we need your help:
I call upon everyone who can make a difference to do so. Share our stories; raise awareness of our lives and our struggles. Refugees need your support, now more than ever.
This story was published as part of World Pulse's Story Awards program. We believe every woman has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could receive added visibility, or even be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.