See all results

Education City Road Closures

For further information about road closures and diversions in Education City during the FIFA Arab Cup™, click here

Story | Community
21 October 2021

Looking beyond a label: A glimpse into the lives of Afghan refugees in Qatar

Share
Looking beyond a label: A glimpse into the lives of Afghan refugees in Qatar

Qatar volunteers meet the men and women from Afghanistan to learn about their lives and their stories before they became displaced

With Qatar serving as a temporary home for thousands of Afghans flown out of Kabul as a result of the United States withdrawing from the country, there is a desire to know more about these men and women – who are now refugees – living in a compound in Doha.

“Often times people have a very stereotypical image of refugees that is based on what they have seen in the media. It is a dramatic image of seemingly poor and desperate people crossing borders on foot or in small boats,” said Dr. Rajai Ray Jureidini, Professor of Migration, Human Rights, and Ethics at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU), a part of Qatar Foundation (QF).

Looking beyond a label: A glimpse into the lives of Afghan refugees in Qatar - QF - Quotes - 01
Looking beyond a label: A glimpse into the lives of Afghan refugees in Qatar - QF - Quotes - 01

Refugees can be from any social class. According to the definition of a refugee, it is someone who has a “well-founded fear of persecution”

Dr. Rajai Ray Jureidini
Dr. Rajai Ray Jureidini

The problem is this image is not the whole story. Refugees can be from any social class. According to the definition of a refugee, it is someone who has a “well-founded fear of persecution”, said Dr. Jureidini. “There is nothing in its definition that says a professional or wealthy person cannot be a refugee. So, the lesser-known side of the story is that refugees are people like us – with normal lives and jobs – until they don’t, because of their tragic circumstances.”

A refugee could be a university student who is restless to attend class again, a surgeon who can’t wait to pick up the scalpel, a teenager who lost her mother and four siblings in a single bomb blast, a craftsman who wants to put his hands to use again, a son who worries for his aging mother, and even an athlete who can’t wait to train again.

Throughs various volunteering initiatives at the compound housing the Afghan refugees, Qatar residents have met these people, all with a unique story but bound by a common thread: the desire for a safe and secure life for themselves and their families.


Zareena* – A Political Science Student

For this 20-year-old university student, being a refugee feels like history repeating itself. “I was born in a refugee camp,” she said.

Looking beyond a label: A glimpse into the lives of Afghan refugees in Qatar - QF - Quotes - 02
Looking beyond a label: A glimpse into the lives of Afghan refugees in Qatar - QF - Quotes - 02

I wonder how the mother who wasn’t okay with me spending one night away found the courage to let me go without knowing when she would see me again

Zareena
Zareena

Zareena’s parents are originally from Tajikistan and came to Afghanistan as refugees. Her family left the refugee camp when she was two, only for her to find herself become a refugee again.

Growing up in a foreign country with no relatives, her mother was very protective. “Overprotective” she said, with teary eyes.

“All my life, my mother never let me go away on overnight field trips. That’s how much she worried about me. But this time, she is the one who packed my bags and told me ‘you must go’.

I wonder how the mother who wasn’t okay with me spending one night away found the courage to let me go without knowing when she would see me again.”

At the tender age of 17, Zareena started working four jobs while attending university. “Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to be rich so I could buy my mother a big comfortable house.”

The dream remains, and the hope that maybe being away from her mother will help accelerate her dream. This is what keeps her going. “I didn’t even get to say goodbye to her before I left,” she said, as she let her emotions overcome her.

  • Surname not mentioned to protect her identity

Dr. Mohammad Jawed Hashmi – A Robotic Laparoscopic Surgeon
Dr. Zala Hashmi – A Gynecologist

37-year-old Dr. Hashmi was ranked among Afghanistan’s best surgeons and was also Afghanistan’s National Sports Director for Special Olympics.

Looking beyond a label: A glimpse into the lives of Afghan refugees in Qatar - QF - Quotes - 03
Looking beyond a label: A glimpse into the lives of Afghan refugees in Qatar - QF - Quotes - 03

Leaving was not a choice we made but a choice that was made for us by our circumstances

Dr. Zala Hashmi
Dr. Zala Hashmi

“I worked day and night for the past 20 years. I was at the peak of my career. A career that I worked so hard for. And it all changed within a matter of hours.”

32-year-old Dr. Zala Hashmi, a gynecologist, said: “Leaving was not a choice we made but a choice that was made for us by our circumstances.”

The couple took the decision to leave in a mere 48 hours. “It takes people more time to plan a weekend getaway than it took us to decide to leave the lives we had built for more than a decade.”

The biggest reason for the couple leaving was the fear that their three children wouldn’t have access to good education. “I can compromise on anything, but I can’t compromise on my children’s education. It was, without a doubt, the hardest decision I have ever made.”

Looking beyond a label: A glimpse into the lives of Afghan refugees in Qatar - QF - 01

The Hashmi family at their temporary residence in Doha.

When asked if he had ever previously considered leaving Afghanistan, Dr. Hashimi said no. “Never. Not even in my dreams. I am a proud Afghan, and it was my honor to serve my country. I was often told by friends and family to leave and that I could easily find a job somewhere else but the thought never even crossed my mind until the Taliban took over.”

The duo says despite everything that is happening in the country now they hope to return to their motherland one day. “For many people, the West is the dream. For us the dream was and will always be Afghanistan – a better Afghanistan.”

“One day we will return, but for now, the show must go on,” Dr. Hashmi said with a hopeful smile on her face.


Breshna Musazai – A Law Graduate and an Education Activist

Growing up in a financially stable family, 30-year-old Musazai always had a comfortable life. “It was only after a few days of leaving that I realized I am a refugee now. Something about that title made me think that ‘no, I don’t want to be a refugee’, but then I told myself that it’s okay, and it isn’t my fault. I don’t need to be ashamed. Like me, everyone else here became refugees in search of a basic human need – safety.”

Looking beyond a label: A glimpse into the lives of Afghan refugees in Qatar - QF - Quotes - 04
Looking beyond a label: A glimpse into the lives of Afghan refugees in Qatar - QF - Quotes - 04

It was only after a few days of leaving that I realized I am a refugee now. Something about that title made me think that ‘no, I don’t want to be a refugee’, but then I told myself that it’s okay, and it isn’t my fault. I don’t need to be ashamed. Like me, everyone else here became refugees in search of a basic human need – safety

Breshna Musazai
Breshna Musazai

Growing up with polio, Musazai was unable to run around and play with the other kids. Instead, she read books and grew up to become a shy introvert. At 25, she was shot three times in a terrorist attack at the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF), leaving her wheelchair bound for life.

“Somehow that attack was a turning point in my life. The shy girl in me, after that attack, found the courage to become a public speaker and I became an education activist.”

After the attack, many of the students at her university were traumatized and found themselves unable to return to university. But not Musazai, she kept going. And somehow her going back inspired others to return too. “If she can get shot thrice and still go back to the very same building where it happened, then so can you,” is what parents told their children.

Despite her struggles, she says she is grateful to be alive. Finding the positive in negative situations is something she seems to excel at. When she was shot, her friends and family were distraught that it wasn’t her polio affected leg that was injured but the functional one. Musazai, on the other hand, said: “Maybe that’s the reason I am alive. Maybe if it was the other one, I would have not made it out alive.”

Musazai plans to pursue her graduate studies when she gets to the US. When asked how she feels about starting a new life, she said: “I am struggling to feel anything right now. I would be lying if I said I am excited for the future. I just feel a sense of relief that my family and I are safe but even that is overshadowed by a sense of constant longing for the country and the city I left behind. Despite everything that I had to go through there, Kabul is and will always be my favorite city in the whole world.”


Iqbal Sapand – A Film Producer

Having worked with the likes of Sky News and NBC News, 42-year-old Sapand was a successful producer with his own production company.

“I am an Emmy Award winner,” he proudly said. Sapand was awarded an Emmy Award in 2011 was for his work as a producer on a segment of The Rachel Maddow Show titled Good Morning, Landlocked Central Asia – a news series produced in Afghanistan.

Looking beyond a label: A glimpse into the lives of Afghan refugees in Qatar - QF - 02
Looking beyond a label: A glimpse into the lives of Afghan refugees in Qatar - QF - 02

My oldest son is autistic, and he gets scared of loud noises. The sounds of blasts and gunshots back home were very disturbing for him. I am happy that at least those sounds, and his consequent discomfort will be a thing of the past

Iqbal Sapand
Iqbal Sapand

Like many others, leaving his country came as a surprise to him too. His biggest reason to leave were his children – two daughters and four sons.

“I didn’t want them to live a life where they wouldn’t be allowed to reach their full potential.”

With the camera having been his best friend for twenty years, suddenly finding himself without one feels like “being a soldier without a gun,” Sapand said.

Speaking on how he feels about leaving his country, he said: “A feeling of hope and sadness in equal parts. Hope for a better future for my family. My oldest son is autistic, and he gets scared of loud noises. The sounds of blasts and gunshots back home were very disturbing for him. I am happy that at least those sounds, and his consequent discomfort will be a thing of the past.

“And sadness because whatever it was, however, it was, it is my country that I left. It is the place that made me who I am today.” Sapand also owned a gem and jewelry business.

He describes Afghans as “very resilient people” and that if anybody can survive hardship, it’s them. “We might have lost everything, but we haven’t lost hope,” said Sapand.


Seema Rezai – A member of Afghanistan’s National Boxing Team

Rezai, now 18, started boxing when she was 16, with the aim of losing weight. A simple fitness goal which quickly snowballed, and she began boxing professionally. After qualifying to become a member of Afghanistan’s national boxing team, she found herself eyeing the Olympics.

She said the first time she went to a boxing gym, the trainer refused to train her. He said girls don’t box.

“Being my stubborn self, I kept going and practically begged him to train me. He agreed on the condition that my father would come and give him permission – which he did,” said Rezai.

Looking beyond a label: A glimpse into the lives of Afghan refugees in Qatar - QF - Quotes - 06
Looking beyond a label: A glimpse into the lives of Afghan refugees in Qatar - QF - Quotes - 06

With me being a refugee now, I won’t have control over which country I compete for but when I win, it will be a tribute to my Afghanistan

Seema Rezai – A member of Afghanistan’s National Boxing Team
Seema Rezai – A member of Afghanistan’s National Boxing Team

She said the first time she went to a boxing gym, the trainer refused to train her. He said girls don’t box.

“Being my stubborn self, I kept going and practically begged him to train me. He agreed on the condition that my father would come and give him permission – which he did,” said Rezai.

While her father was okay with her boxing as a hobby, he was not supportive of her taking it up as a profession. She recalls lots of arguments within the family because of her less than common career ambition.

“Once again, my stubborn self didn’t let that dissuade me, and I started participating in local boxing competitions. It was only after I started winning that somehow my father changed his mind, and not only accepted, but also supported my desire to become a world-class boxer,” she said.

Rezai left her home with nothing but some medals she has won in boxing competitions back home, her phone and some money her father gave her.

Looking beyond a label: A glimpse into the lives of Afghan refugees in Qatar - QF - 03

Rizai’s boxing training session at the refugee compound in Doha.

“Nobody wants to be a refugee. It is not a choice I made but one my circumstances made for me.

“I miss my family so much. Every time my mother calls me, she asks me if I miss them. I always laugh and say no, and ask why would I miss them. I pretend to be strong because I don’t want her to worry. And then as soon as I put the phone down, I sob like a child.”

For Rezai, the dream is winning a medal at the 2024 Olympics. “A shiny gold one,” she said with a determination that is not usual for an 18-year-old. “With me being a refugee now, I won’t have control over which country I compete for but when I win, it will be a tribute to my Afghanistan.”

Related Stories