Perspective: The Right to Go Home; on International Human Rights Day Chief Feature Writer Paul Groves Talks to an Afghan Refugee Living in Birmingham about His Dream of a Safe Return to His Country

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Groves

The world has suddenly started to take an interest in Afghanistan again and the suffering of its people under a fanatical regime.

It took the atrocities of September 11 to bring the country back into the world spotlight for the first time since the Russians invaded the country in the 1980s.

There have been voices trying hard to be heard in the last 20 years. The stories they were telling were harrowing, but got lost alongside the possibly more fashionable issues of the day.

For Noor Mohammed Safe the day when Afghanistan is free of all foreign influence whether that is from the USA or Uzbekistan cannot come soon enough.

Forced out of Afghanistan two years ago by a Taliban regime angered that he was trying to educate the boys and girls of his home village, the 25-year-old now devotes his time to helping his fellow countrymen and women try and settle in a new country and a new culture.

Today, on International Human Rights Day, Noor is pessimistic about the future.

``I would like to go back but I cannot see this happening for some time,'' he explained. ``I do not see the situation improving and I do not think it will be safe for me to return until we have more stability.

``The different tribes will carry on fighting among themselves. It will only settle when all the foreign interference in Afghanistan ends.

``If peace does come to Afghanistan, it will happen when everyone -- the Americans, the Pakistan government, the Iranians, Uzbekistan, all these countries -- leaves my country alone.''

Noor wants to return home to Kunar province, where two years ago he was living with his parents and nine brothers and sisters. He has worked hard to acclimatise to life in a different country with a different culture, but it is still not home.

``This is something people do not always realise. It is not easy for us to come to a new country with a very different culture and language.

``We have little choice. I did not want to leave Afghanistan. I wanted to stay and carry on teaching my classes.''

Noor's story is not unique. He angered the local Taliban chiefs and spent five months in jail. He was lucky, because he managed to stay alive.

Pressure from the elders of his village persuaded his captors to release him. But when it became clear that the rest of his family was under threat of arrest and imprisonment, he realised he had little alternative but to leave.

Afghani refugees represent one of the largest groups now seeking asylum in Birmingham every single one has a harrowing tale to tell about the years of oppression they have endured. With the support of agencies such as Oxfam, people like Noor feel safe and confident enough to tell their story.

``My father was a village commander who helped to fight against the Russians when they invaded my country,'' said Noor. ``But when the Russians were defeated, it caused many problems.

``The people who have controlled my country since the Russians left have done whatever they wanted. They had the power and they had the weapons and have committed murder, rape and many other crimes against their own people. ``When the Taliban took control I was teaching classes to boys and girls in my village. I was lucky to have an education and I wanted others to have an education too. But one day I was told to stop the classes and I refused.

``I was told again and this was my final warning. I carried on teaching the classes and then the Taliban came and arrested me. I was released and returned home to teach my classes.

``I was arrested for a second time and put in jail for five months. The elders of my village made the Taliban release me. But when they said they would arrest my family if I carried on teaching my classes, I knew I had to leave.''

Landing in a foreign country was not easy. Two years on and there are many aspects of life that Noor finds difficult to adjust to, but he is not the type that gives up easily. …