Visa issues and financial problems weigh heavily on Afghan asylum seekers in Pakistan

Welfare agency reports that three people died by suicide in the past few months

Pekai Saadat visiting the grave of her daughter Maryam. Islamabad, Pakistan. Photo: Khudai Noor Nasar/ The National.
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Pekai Saadat is a grieving Afghan mother. Her daughter, Maryam Saadat, 21, a US asylum seeker in Pakistan, died by suicide last week in Islamabad.

“I am worried for my daughter as she is alone in the graveyard,” she told The National, crying by her daughter's grave for hours.

Maryam is the only Afghan buried in this cemetery.

Her parents said the stress surrounding the status of her US immigration application, and her worsening living conditions in Pakistan as an undocumented Afghan refugee, had a big impact on her mental health.

Maryam, a law student who worked with a US-funded organisation supporting the Afghan judiciary system, applied for the US P2 visa, which includes a provision for Afghans who were employed by a US-based NGO.

She waited for a decision for almost a year, her mother says.

Afghan refugee dies by suicide in Pakistan

Afghan refugee dies by suicide in Pakistan

"My daughter became a victim. She is gone now, buried under the ground," Ms Saadat said.

Maryam’s sister, Kubra, stands by her sister's grave speechless. Her mother said the family left Afghanistan for a better future for her children.

Maryam was studying law in her hometown Mazar Sharif, before the Taliban took control of the capital, Kabul.

The 21-year-old fled with her siblings and parents to Pakistan, in hope of immigrating to the US, but a number of problems were mounting up.

She was unemployed and her Pakistan visa had expired, leaving her stranded and unable to visit her fiancé at home.

“She had visa issues, and the issues of not knowing and waiting. She was young, she couldn’t bear it anymore. It affected her soul and mind," Ms Saadat said.

Maryam’s mother urged the US and the UNHCR to take action to “save other Afghan migrants' lives”.

According to the Afghan refugees’ council in Pakistan, Maryam was the third person to die by suicide as a result of extended waiting periods for their visas, while also struggling with challenging living conditions in Pakistan.

Suraya Sabeer, the council’s deputy, told The National, that three Afghans had died by suicide in the last three to four months because of “financial problems, educational problems, visa problems".

"The world didn’t pay any attention to them, that’s why Afghan refugees and our youth are dying by suicide,” Ms Sabeer said.

Zahraa, 39, is another Afghan asylum seeker. She has five children and lives in a small rented apartment in the suburbs of Islamabad, which she says she can no longer afford.

She said that suicides are likely to continue unless the problem is addressed.

“I came here two years back with a small amount of money, and with no work here, no one can imagine how I've been living," Zahraa said.

According to the UNHCR, 600,000 Afghans arrived in Pakistan after the fall of Kabul.

Afghans move to neighbouring Pakistan, mostly for a short period, in the hope of obtaining asylum in the US, Canada and Europe, but some families have ended up with tragedies instead.

"This kind of wound, may God not let any family face such trauma,” Ms Saadat said.

Pakistan's Information Ministry and the US embassy in Islamabad have not responded to requests for comment.

For mental health support, you can contact UMANG Pakistan on Phone (92) 0311 7786264

Updated: September 05, 2023, 3:03 PM