A people unwanted.
Brave souls who escaped terrorist attacks and war in their country, sometimes fleeing with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, are now viewed by much of the Western world as being terrorists themselves.
Currently Afghanistan is the world’s second largest source of refugees, numbering 2.7 million, according to the UNHCR. In addition to this, there are an estimated 3.7 million displaced Afghanis, mostly residing in the neighboring countries of Iran and Pakistan. Many refugees are being forced to return to Afghanistan, mostly from Pakistan but some also from Iran and the EU. The EU no longer considers Afghanistan to be a war zone even though the fighting has not stopped.
In Pakistan, Islamabad issued a mandate that by the end of 2017, all Afghani refugees must return home. Tensions are high in Pakistan, where many Afghani refugees have lived for two or three decades. Some have already made the choice to return home even though their children have never known life outside of Pakistan. For many this seems to be the only choice due to escalating harassment since the mandate. Yet upon their return to Afghanistan, many are harassed all over again being suspected as Pakistani spies.
These refugees who have spent years in “the wilderness” are returning home to what? Despite the promise of shelters being built to house them in the early stages of repatriation, none are ready. Winters are harsh and lodging scarce in this land that has been blown apart by bombs. In one study’s estimate, 60% of Kabul’s buildings are damaged or destroyed. Reconstruction is a long way from being finished in this land that has known so much fighting.
Our hearts have been grieving the tragic hostage situation that occurred over the weekend in Bangladesh. While we are relieved that our family, friends, and all who work for Pebble are fine, we are deeply saddened by the loss of lives, both foreigners and Bangladeshis.
This is not the Bangladesh we know. Memories of years spent in this warm and hospitable nation come flooding back: Complete strangers inviting us over for tea. Beggars asking how our boys were doing. Shopkeepers calling out their greetings as we passed by. Standing on the rooftop with the neighbors at night to see if the moon would signal another day of Ramadan or if the month of fasting would be over and the Eid celebration would be the next day. Neighbors inviting us to celebrate with them. One year we had seven men from seven different households in our apartment building drop by to invite us to a meal or tea later that day. Our hearts were fuller than our bellies that night because we, strangers of a different race and religion, were given a place at their table and loved.
The actions of a few do not define the essence of the many. Six terrorists do not get to define what this beautiful nation of nearly 163 million people stand for.
Like a rose bush that comes back stronger every time it is cut back, Bangladesh for me will always stand for—
It was a bittersweet July 4th for me as I celebrated our Independence Day with family and friends. I wonder what our nation would be like if we were as welcoming and tolerant. If even half of us would start living out of love instead of fear. Perhaps we would have less hostage situations, less racism and less police brutality.
Fear is a powerful thing. BUT. LOVE. IS. STRONGER!