(article en français ici )
We have been living in Belgium for 4 years and 4 months now. Our daughter is 4 years old, and Harbans Kaur is 4 months pregnant. We hope that number 4 will bring us luck now! We are Sikhs(*) from Jalalabad, a city in Afghanistan. We had a good life there, until we got problems with some people. Both our fathers had shops, but they sold everything in order to pay for the safest way to leave the country.
GS: I first went to Russia. I worked there for 9 years. Then I went back to Afghanistan, and got engaged to my now wife Harbans Kaur. Due to problems with a few influential people in Jalalabad, and after having gone through months of violence, threats and attempts of forced conversion of my fiancee, we decided to get married secretly and leave the country as fast as we could. The violence against our families was so bad that both our fathers sold their shops and houses. Harbans Kaur’s parents are in England now, and mine went to Pakistan for a while but returned to another district in Jalalabad.
We arrived in Belgium full of hope for a happy and peaceful life, also with our respected religion. Our dream is to offer a bright future for our children, safety for everyone, and to create our business. I would be grateful to pay taxes if they let us work! And so I asked for asylum in October 2009, and after 1,5 years I got refused. I had been working part time in a Car Wash, and due to the rejection we lost our social housing and any chance of support. Then we received new documents proving the danger for our families in Afghanistan, and we introduced a new asylum request. First we stayed in 2 centers, and after 6 months I found an apartment in Charleroi. At that point I could work part time at the Car Wash again.
Meanwhile, I got yet another negative answer. My lawyer introduced a new request for regularization, and 3 months later I got a third negative advice. Since September 2013, I have no regular income. I am helpless and am trying to support my wife and daughter as good as I can. Without papers, it is not easy to get medical care. Right now, we have to ask people to lend us money for rent, health insurance and basic needs. I barely slept since the end of last month, worrying about how I would pay the landlord.
I know that my parents are living in fear. They should be here with us, because they are in danger in Afghanistan. But as I have no papers, I can not do anything for them.
HK: As a Sikh woman in Afghanistan, I could not even go to the gurdwara (Sikh temple) on my own, I always had to be accompanied by my parents. Here in Belgium I go shopping alone, no problem. I can get education, and our daughter can go to school. My husband taught me how to speak English. He had a teacher at home in Afghanistan, and when we arrived in Belgium, I wanted to learn. Now, I would like to learn French!
GS: After 1992 the war got more intense because of the Taliban. Danger was always present in daily life, especially in Jalalabad. One day, people fled their houses and searched for safety in the temple. But a rocket hit the temple, and my elder sister got killed, and with her many other people.
HK: That same day when the rocket hit the temple, my father got severely injured, and two of my young cousins died. The entire Sikh community is leaving or wants to leave.
I like Belgium, life is good here, but living without papers has many consequences on daily life. For example: if there is a letter at the post office, I can not pick it up, as I have no ID card. Without papers, you are nothing. We don’t blame the Belgian people, we know it is because we have no papers.
GS: Look, there has been war and terrorism in Afghanistan for over 35 years now. You could go to the market and not be sure to come home alive. We thought it would be totally different in Europe for us, but we were wrong: in Afghanistan you may get killed every day, but in Europe we die a bit every day.
Interview: Marlene N.
(*) for more information about the Afghan Sikh and Hindu minorities, see this website