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New Delhi, October 18: Asef has a degree in engineering from the Polytechnic University in Kabul and had a good life back home. A refugee now, he ekes out a living by supplying food to restaurants and can barely make ends meet.

After the Taliban took over, Asef had to flee in 2006. But for the 38-year-old, his trails were far from over. Because the Indian Government doesn’t provide refugees with residence allowance or a work permit, Asef’s problems have only mounted in the last couple of years.

Aaisha, Asef’s wife, who has a bachelor’s in English Literature, says: “We had to flee Afghanistan because we felt insecure. We were in danger. But in New Delhi, we have found fewer chances of subsistence and employment.”

Providing refuge for 25 years
Thousands of Afghan nationals have sought refuge in India over the last 25 years. Among them a majority are Sikh and Hindu refugees. About 200 of these have become naturalised citizens of India. But for the ethnic Afghans, the road is a long one. The culture is different and there are language barriers, and they want to be resettled elsewhere, a United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) official says.

Want to go home but can’t
Ali (26), also escaped from Afghanistan. “Rebels beheaded my brother in 2007. I had no choice but to flee and seek asylum here,” he says. “But I’m absolutely shocked at my circumstances.” He used to be a professional kick boxer and won the Asian Kickboxing Competition in Dubai in 2004. He also won a bronze medal in the International Kickboxing Competition in India the same year. Ali now works in a car workshop in Delhi and earns Rs 1,500 a month. He can’t afford rented accommodation and sleeps in the workshop, he said.
Many Afghan refugees, who are now vendors or hawkers in the city, held prominent positions in Afghanistan before they were forced to leave. Some returned to Afghanistan only to sneak into India once again. Conditions back home are still unstable, they say.
Perkashkor (35), mother of three, came to Delhi during the Taliban regime. After her husband abandoned her recently, she was forced to look for odd jobs in order to provide for her family. “I really want to go back. But due to insecurity there, I can’t,” she says.
After the UNHCR reduced monetary assistance for Afghan refugees in 1998, thousands were impoverished and driven into debt. The Indian government’s failure to provide aid added to the woes of the refugees, who are concentrated in parts of West Delhi and near Nizamuddin Basti, where a lot of Muslim refugees, including Bangladeshis, live.

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POSTED: Monday, October 6, 2008
UPDATED: 9:59 pm EDT October 6, 2008

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Members of the Sikh religion and the America Civil Liberties Union marched outside the Duval County Jail Sunday, claiming an inmate’s religious rights were violated when he was forced to cut his hair and have his face shaved.

Sikhs said Jagmohan Ahuja, a member of their religion, had his long hair cut his beard and mustache shaved while behind bars.

Ahuja, 36, has been held since April 29 on three misdemeanor charges relating to violation of protective order and violation of probation. According to the jail Web site, he is not eligible for bond.

On Monday, the city’s attorney released a statement saying, “When an inmate’s religious practices compromise the safety and security of our corrections facilities, safety and security must take precedence.

“Nonetheless, members of the Sikh religion said they want change.”We won’t stop here until the policy is changed,” said Jaspreet Singh of United Sikhs. “It’s completely against our religion to cut any hair on our body. It’s considered an integral part of our body, part of what you are.”According to reports, when police arrested Ahuja, he told the officer, “I am from Afghanistan and in my country it is perfectly acceptable to beat your wife.”Ahuja is now serving a three-year sentence.

“The state of Florida convicted him and sentenced him to three years in jail. Not three years plus violate his religious rights,” Singh said.On Monday, Channel 4 received the following statement from the city’s attorney:

“The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is committed to respecting and accommodating the religious beliefs of all our inmates population. However, when an inmate’s religious practices compromise the safety and security of our corrections facilities, safety and security must take precedence. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has a long-standing policy that mandates sentenced male inmates have short hair and wear no head coverings. This policy is consistent with that of many other correctional facilities throughout Florida and the United States. This policy is necessary to assure the safety of all inmates and corrections officers, by limiting an inmate’s ability to conceal contraband and/or weapons. This policy has been determined by courts to be lawful. While we fully respect the involved inmate’s religious beliefs, the safety and security of our correctional facility must prevail.”

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