We Have Left Our Beloved Behind

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Time to read

4 Minutes

Author(s)

Mona Hosseini
Reza Husseini
Razia Rezaie

Guest post by Mona Hosseini, Reza Husseini and Razia Rezaie. Mona Hossaini is from the historical city of Bamyan, Afghanistan and completed her BA degree in education and literature and MA in South Asia Studies. With the definitive goal of working in Afghanistan and the human rights area, she worked with different international organisations as researcher, advocacy and capacity building trainer, project manager and policy expert for about 11 years. She also writes papers on women and peace negotiation in Afghanistan, Kashmir and Afghanistan, women participation for sustainable peace, women’s rights and concerns after mid-august. Currently, she is living in Sweden and working with Voice of Afghan people as research and policy expert. Reza Hussaini is an Afghan researcher and currently a PhD candidate at City, University of London. He was research manager at the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University, and has worked with national and international organisations on research projects focused on human rights, peace-building and migration. He collaborated with Liza Schuster on an examination of representations of migration in Afghan Oral Culture, a study of the Hopes, Plans and Fears of Afghan Families, and an exploration of the influence of the EU on the development of Afghan Migration Policy. His original PhD thesis was an attempt to use Participatory Action Research with the residents of IDP camps. Interrupted by his evacuation, he has now turned to working with recent evacuees to the UK, combining PAR and autoethnography. Razia Rezaie’s research interests are in cultural anthropology, migration, and transnational identity, and has explored the migration and perception of belonging and home through a case study of Afghans in Japan. She has also worked as a research consultant for Samul Hall assessing the World Bank project on migration and women. Previously she also worked on an ethnography in the field of migration decision-making at the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University. 

This is the second post in the themed series that marks one year since the release of Stealing Time: Migration, Temporalities and State Violence (co-edited by Victoria Canning andMonish Bhatia).   

Bamyan, Afghanistan

Last year, our chapter ‘"My beloved will come today or tomorrow" time and the left behind’ was published in Bhatia and Canning’s edited collection Stealing time: Migration, temporalities and state violence. We had spent the period between 2016-2018 talking to families about their fears, plans and hopes for the future, and been struck by how much of their time was spent in waiting for a family member to return or to send for them. Now we, the authors of that chapter are ourselves scattered with only one of us remaining in Afghanistan, thanks to the withdrawal of international troops and the Taliban’s takeover of power. 

Some of us managed to leave with our immediate families, others were forced to leave alone, all of us have been deeply wounded by the sudden shock of departure, and the uncertainty about the future that we documented in our research is now ours. We are uncertain about our own future and that of those left behind. By now we are exhausted by the effort we have expended trying to bring them to join us, exhausted by the ‘we acknowledge receipt of your email’ and the resounding silence from those with the power to help but who choose not to.

Technology means that we can stay in touch, that we are up to date with the house searches, beatings, robberies and intimidation to which our families are subjected, that their fear is our constant companion. To fear, we have to add guilt – the guilt of those who got away. We revisit our actions in the days leading up to the evacuation, trying to remember, to re-construct exactly what happened, how it was that we were able to leave? We replay possible scenarios of the evacuation and the journey in our minds. Were the series of decisions we made the right ones? What were the alternatives? What if I had brought them to airport? What if I had asked them to come and they had been killed in the explosion? Were there other ways to help? How have others managed to get more people out? Why could I not succeed as they did? Was I stupid? Was I a coward?  

We ask ourselves over and over again what more could we, should we have done? Who else could we have taken with us? Should I have stayed? Would they be safer? Maybe I could protect them if I was there? Should I have stayed until we could all leave? Is it worth leaving home without mother, father, brother, sister, children? Is safety worth the pain of separation? When we left, well-meaning friends and colleagues told us to go, told us that we could do more for those left behind if we were out. But instead, we have been reduced to impotent, passive, voiceless bystanders banging our heads on keyboards in frustration.

And now we are out - what more can we do for those left behind? Those left behind vent their fears and frustrations, not understanding how helpless and impotent we are – asking ‘what is happening? When will you take us out? What are you doing there? Why can’t you help us?’ Conversations have become complicated – we filter the difficulties of life in a new challenging environment in exile because we know our difficulties are nothing compared to theirs. We cannot share any good news, because there is so little and because it seems disrespectful. So, the conversations become shorter and shorter ‘how are things?’ ‘There is no work, no money, we cannot leave the house’.

And sometimes, the fear and frustration spills over into angry, bitter accusations – ‘now you are safe, you don’t care about us, you have forgotten us.’ Our hearts break – what should we say? We are here, but we are nowhere. We write emails, make telephone calls, but we are told ‘wait’. The lucky ones among us have a home, but others are in temporary accommodation, waiting in “bridging” hotels and centers. None of us are heard.

Thinking of loved ones left behind makes it more difficult to build our lives in a new country. Everything that happens there affects our life here. Imagining the risks facing those left behind is a constant agony - what if something happened to them while we are not there to help? How did my niece feel when she and her classmates were excluded from school? What if they got sick and there is no man at home to take them to hospital?

When we look back at our interactions with the families in our project, there were moments of mistrust, where they would say ‘what is the point in this research - no one will really care or hear about our problems’. We were researchers, we would take notes and write, and for days we would wonder about and discuss their problems, but then we would slowly move on. But right now, we:  carry each of those families and their loved ones inside ourselves, we have become those families, for now we are refugees, we have left our beloved behind. 

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

M. Hosseini, R. Husseini and R. Rezaie. (2022) We Have Left Our Beloved Behind. Available at:https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/blog-post/2022/07/we-have-left-our-beloved-behind. Accessed on: 28/11/2022

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