Meet Rahila, one of FOCUS’s key personnel, who herself received support from FOCUS in the 1990s when her family fled from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Now she is a Case Management Coordinator for FOCUS’s European Settlement Programme and works to help settle migrants who have recently arrived in Europe. She tells us of her journey and how she has gone full circle with FOCUS.

FOCUS is a very special organisation for many Ismailis of Afghanistan. I first came across the name in the late 1990s when my family and I were forced to flee to Pakistan due to conflict in Afghanistan. I recall a minivan dropped us across the border. My father asked us to stay on a side road while he went to find the Peshawar FOCUS Office. That image of us being displaced, finding ourselves on a random street in a different country with little of our belongings and no place to go is a memory that has remained with me until today. Once my father returned and knew where we could find shelter was such a relief. FOCUS provided us with reception services and transferred us to Karachi, where we were assisted with initial accommodation and livelihood until we figured our way around ourselves.

I spent most of my teenage years in Pakistan, receiving support from FOCUS and other Jamati institutions ranging from education to health. Most importantly, FOCUS provided a sense of stability in a state of refugeehood for us, which will always remain a special part of my childhood and growing up. I know some families who have kept their FOCUS issued ID cards until today.

After the big repatriation of refugees in 2002, we went back to Afghanistan. 2002 was a time of great hope in Afghanistan. I thought FOCUS was a refugee assistance organisation based in Pakistan. When we returned to Afghanistan, my school, which was destroyed during the war, was rehabilitated by FOCUS and then the organisation became well-known for its disaster risk reduction work. I eventually left Afghanistan for education to Canada, then to the USA and finally the Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities (GPISH) brought me to London.

In 2012, I got an internship with FOCUS, and this is how my professional work in forced displacement started. After completing my internship, I worked with external organisations for a while and joined FOCUS again in 2017 to help with the European Settlement Programme. I am currently the Case Management Coordinator. Our mandate is to ensure families making their journey in our jurisdiction are settled safely and smoothly. 

In the current environment, forced displacement is becoming more and more complex. Many generations live in displacement with no durable solutions. Forced movement of populations will always be part of global challenges. Therefore, it is becoming ever more essential that countries make “welcoming refugees” part of their social and economic infrastructure so that it is no longer a shock for both host communities and refugees. Building resilience at the time of potential disaster or conflict may have to become part of our education system so we learn to live in stability during uncertainties. Sharing is no longer optional and just a nice act of kindness, but it has become necessary for our planet’s survival. For the generations to come, we may need to learn to share better, whether that is territory, home, resources, classroom, knowledge, skill, or bread.

To read more about Rahila’s journey, click here.

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