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Respected Afghan refugee writer/educational TV producer being forced from Italian refugee shelter

Living on the street may be his only choice while awaiting political asylum hearing
Robert Maier
Tuesday 22 April 2008

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Amin Wahidi, a young journalist, blogger, filmmaker, and educational TV producer/writer from Kabul was told last week by a municipal a refugee shelter in Milan, Italy that he would have to leave his assigned shelter immediately, while awaiting his hearing for political asylum. Administrators of the Centro Accoligzia Via Fulvio Testi said that his stay in the shelter had reached the six month maximum allowed, and he must vacate his bed and remove his few belongings from the premises, in a few days. They offered alternative choices, which means he may have to live on the street and beg for food. This is a sad pattern being experienced by more and more young Afghan journalists who have dared to criticize the Western-backed Afghan government or the violent extremists that Coalition forces supposedly ousted seven years ago in its war on terrorism.

Wahidi had requested political asylum last September after attending a cinema and human rights workshop held in conjunction with the 2007 Venice Film Festival. Just before his return to Kabul, Wahidi received messages from his family in Kabul who had received warnings from unknown parties that told them to “dig his grave,” because a “suicide bomber would meet him when his plane landed at Kabul airport.”

Threats against young journalists in Afghanistan

Wahidi had been receiving threats of violence for many months in Afghanistan, since appearing several times a week on the independent Ariana Television Network there. As host of an English language instructional series, a cinema history series, and a music instructional series, he became a target for extremists who violently oppose exposure to Western culture. He joined a list of other young Afghan journalists who had been exercising their newfound freedom of expression in ground-breaking post-Taliban independent Afghan media outlets. Unfortunately, many of these young journalists received anonymous threats and warnings from government agencies about their work. Some had been arrested and beaten, and several had been murdered. Others had fled for political asylum in the E.U. and U.S., after being forced to live in hiding for several months in Afghanistan.

Wahidi reported the threats to the Milan police. They suggested he request political asylum, and assisted him in making the application to Italian immigration authorities. He was granted temporary residency, and arrangements were made for him to stay in a municipal dormitory shelter with other refugees, where he would receive a bed and two meals a day. He was required to leave the shelter between 9:30 AM and 4:30 PM, and attend daily Italian languages classes. He was forbidden to work in Italy, and his passport was confiscated by the police. His only means of support would be asking friends for money to buy winter clothes, and a cell phone so he could keep in touch with family. He spent most of his days in the public library, and was occasionally invited to film events in Italy; his way paid by the sponsors.

This did not seem to be too great of a burden, because he was safe, and the Italian authorities promised that within three-six months months, his case would be decided. He would be granted asylum, and a work permit, or returned to Afghanistan. He was therefore granted a six-month residency in the refugee shelter.

Told to go live on the street

The six months will pass in a few days, but there has been no action on his petition for asylum. The immigration office says that there is a huge backlog, and it could be many months before a decision might be made. He told the refugee shelter of this situation, but they replied that there could be no exception to their six month rule, and that he must try several other public shelters that provided beds by the night for the mentally ill and drug addicts. He visited the other shelters, but they were full, and there was no space for him.

No money, no shelter, no work permit allowed for political refugees
Wahidi has no money for a hotel or hostel, but has tried to find work. Fluent in English, Persian, Pashto, and Urdu, and making excellent progress in his Italian classes, he applied at several translation agencies, but they could not offer him anything because he did not have an Italian work permit. He posted signs offering his services as a freelance English tutor or translator, but received no response. His only other choice appears to be working illegally, perhaps washing dishes in a restaurant, or begging in the street.

In Milan, Wahidi has met other refugees in similar situations. Apparently the city is closing one or more shelters and told all residents to find other accommodations while awaiting their status hearings. This has triggered several demonstrations by frustrated political refugees who expected a little more rational, if not kind treatment.

At this time, Wahidi is exploring other options. Several friends and acquaintances outside Italy have been able to send him small amounts of money for food and winter clothing, but are unable to fully support him with food and shelter for the indeterminate amount of time required for Italian immigration to make a decision about his case.

In today’s world, this is the sad lot of many Afghan refugees. Officials set impossible and contradictory regulations, NGOs are woefully inadequate, and people are forced to live on the street in dangerous, unhealthy, unproductive situations. The mental and physical strain of leaving your home under extreme duress, and surviving in an unwelcoming situation is horrendous.

The failure of the West to uphold its ideals

Wahidi is a talented, dedicated person who has risked his life for the dearly-held principles of democracy and human rights in Afghanistan. The West is spending billions of dollars fighting the same people who threaten, attack and murder people like Wahidi. It supports a government that cannot protect young journalists. His journalistic bravery in support of justice, education, and freedom of information appears to have been rewarded by the West only with a place on a park bench and an invitation to beg for his meals.

Kabulpress English pages editor, writer, video producer and educator.

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