As the holy month of Ramadan began last week in Pakistan, Afghan refugee Sajjad Khan recalled the pleasures of the holy month of fasting back home, where he savored opulent sahoor and iftar dinners surrounded by friends and family and always had enough to give out to the less fortunate.

He and his family will be breaking their fasts only with home-baked bread and, if they’re lucky, green tea this Ramadan.
During Ramadan, Muslims around the world fast from sunrise to dark in order to demonstrate patience, humility, and devotion. The month comes to a close with Eid Al-Fitr, a festival that marks the end of fasting and allows people to visit friends and relatives to exchange presents and feasts.

However, for many Afghan refugees in Pakistan, observing the traditional rites associated with this time of year may be difficult this year.
When US-led forces left Afghanistan last year and the Taliban captured Kabul, Pakistan already had 1.4 million Afghan refugees, but at least 100,000 more have arrived since then, according to Qaiser Khan Afridi, a local UN refugee agency official.

“In Afghanistan, every Ramadan day was like Eid day,” said Khan, 49, who sells fruits and vegetables at a market in Peshawar. “As refugees, we now live a difficult life… Bread and a cup of green tea make up my iftar.”

Khan worked as a fruit exporter in Afghanistan’s eastern Laghman region, from where he escaped with his parents and children just a week after the Taliban took control in August. He is now one of dozens of migrants who come to Peshawar’s Board Bazar every morning to try to find clients for their items.

“I fast all day and earn 800 rupees ($4.30) to feed my five children and ailing parents,” he explained. “I pray that God shields everyone from the hardships of being a refugee. People look down on you, and that makes you feel unhappy.”

He stated, however, that he would not return to Afghanistan as long as the Taliban ruled the nation. Despite the limited chances for a fair living and the hot summers in Peshawar, staying in Pakistan is still the preferable option.
According to the United Nations, Afghanistan’s economy collapsed last year when the Taliban took control, with around 23 million people suffering from severe hunger and 95 percent of the population not eating enough food.

“With no healthcare or educational services over there, life is hard,” Khan remarked. “I want to offer my children a wonderful life here.”
When the Taliban controlled Kabul, Naseemullah Khan, 46, also fled the country.

“I was able to flee to Pakistan in a hurry and start a new life,” he told Arab News. “To feed my nine-member family, I sell fruits and vegetables.”

“Fasting in refugee life is tough, if not impossible.”
Shahid Afghan, a former owner of a Kabul textile company, said he had a “pleasant Ramadan” in his hometown, having iftar dinners with family and friends. He now sells children’s clothing at a makeshift booth in Peshawar, barely scraping by.

“I’m lucky if I get food for my kids,” he remarked. “I will return (to Afghanistan) whenever peace has been restored in my country… People there are still plagued by terror, hunger, and uncertainty.”
When the Taliban imposed a ban on girls’ education, Naqeeb Ahmad, a refugee from Nangarhar province, told Arab News that he had lost all hope for a better life back home.
“We moved to Peshawar only for the aim of educating my two daughters,” said Ahmad, who used to manage a dry fruit import and export business in Afghanistan but now sells vegetables on the side of the road in Peshawar.
“Ramadan is quite difficult here,” he explained. “When I’m alone, I have a tendency to cry… To break my fast, I had fruit, meat, and dried fruit on my table. “Now I just eat home-made bread and drink green tea.” The life of a refugee is quite difficult. When I see my children’s suffering on a daily basis, it hurts me.”
The UN’s Afridi stated that there was no government-sponsored initiative to assist refugees in getting through the month of fasting.
“Health and education facilities are offered to Afghan refugees in their camps,” he stated. “However, we don’t have a Ramadan program for them.”


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