November 4, 2022
WASHINGTON — Afghan journalists who fled across the border to Pakistan to escape Taliban rule say they still face an uncertain future.
Living in Pakistan often on temporary or family visas, many are unable to find work and are concerned about their legal status when their permits expire.
“We don’t know what is going to happen to us,” said 24-year-old Waslat Khan.
A presenter for the Kabul-based Jawanan TV until the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021, Khan told VOA her three-month visa expired in June and she has “yet to receive an extension.”
Living with her husband in a suburb of Islamabad, Khan said she fears jail or deportation after Pakistan announced new measures against those who overstay.
Earlier this year, Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior announced a visa amnesty in place until Dec. 31, 2022. During that time, authorities will not issue charges for those who have overstayed a visa by up to a year.
After that, authorities will take action. Under Pakistan’s 1946 Foreigners Act, overstaying a visa can result in up to three years in prison.
The announcement has caused concern among the dozens of Afghan journalists who have fled to Pakistan.
Neither the spokespersons for Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry nor the Interior Ministry responded to VOA’s email requesting comment and further details on the visa amnesty.
Qaiser Khan Afridi, a spokesperson for the U.N. Refugee Agency, or UNHCR, told VOA that his organization has called on host countries not to turn away Afghans whose lives would be at risk.
“We have issued advisories, and we requested all the countries not to, you know, send back some of those whose lives might be at stake,” Afridi said. “Developed countries should also support the refugee-hosting countries such as Pakistan and Iran, because [those countries] have supported refugees for the last many years.”
Khan believes her life would be in danger if forced to return to Afghanistan.
“My house was searched many times, and I was forced to escape and come here to Pakistan,” she said.
The journalist told VOA she received anonymous threats before Kabul fell saying if she didn’t leave her job, she would be killed. When the Taliban took power, her home was searched at least three times, “but fortunately I was not there,” she said.
Her husband was later detained and beaten.
Shortly after, Khan applied for a medical visa that allowed her entry to Pakistan.
Since the Taliban has been in control, the environment for Afghan journalists has declined, with media rights groups citing censorship, violence and economic hardship. Female reporters are most affected.
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has found that since August 2021, 40% of Afghan media outlets have closed, and 84% of women have lost their jobs.
The Taliban did not respond to VOA’s request for comment.
Escaping Afghanistan did not address all of Khan’s concerns.
“I thought that I could find a job here [in Islamabad], and someone would support us. But I was wrong,” she said.
Now, Khan said, she feels “hopeless” and “depressed” and says she doesn’t know what to do.
‘Most are jobless’
Najibullah Habibi, the former owner of Tajala TV in central Maidan Wardak province, told VOA that around 250 to 300 Afghan journalists are now in Pakistan, including himself.
Habibi moved to Islamabad with his wife and four children in March.
“Afghan journalists who moved to Pakistan have multiple problems,” Habibi said.
A few found work online, but “most of them are jobless,” he said. “Some of them even sold their laptops and cameras to get money to buy food and pay the rent.”
A few international organizations have helped journalists, said Habibi, “but only those who have been threatened and provide documentation of that are helped financially.”
“It is not easy to provide such documentation,” he added.
For Shukria Seddiqi, a journalist from the western province of Herat, financial issues are her biggest concern.
Seddiqi worked for Radio Faryad before moving to Islamabad with her husband and their three children two months after the Taliban takeover.
“We spent all the money that we brought with us here from Afghanistan,” she told VOA. “Now, we are asking our families and relatives in Afghanistan to send us money so we can live here in Pakistan. It is difficult. I worked for 14 years in Afghanistan, but now I have to stay home.”
Pauline Ades-Mevel, editor-in-chief of RSF, told VOA that many of the Afghan journalists who fled to Pakistan don’t know how long they will stay.
RSF is one of several media rights groups that helped evacuate “a number of journalists to European countries,” and which provides financial support to at-risk Afghans, Ades-Mevel said.
Since the Taliban takeover, RSF has helped relocate more than 200 at-risk journalists and assisted in the cases of around 150 others.
Ades-Mevel said RSF is in contact with Afghan journalists in Pakistan and other countries and is working with host countries.
“There are hundreds of journalists, and RSF alone cannot cover them all, but we are doing everything we can to support them,” she said.
Habibi said he and many other Afghan journalists want to be relocated to third countries.
“We want to go to a place where our children would have a future,” he said.
This story originated in VOA’s Afghan Service.