Decades of war and hardship forced many Afghan refugees to migrate from their homeland, but for some, the migration has proven to be very beneficial. Experiences with technology and different vocations across the border, has positively influenced one set of refugees who are now setting up their own businesses in the recycling trade in Afghanistan.
In Peshawar, the recycling trade has been very successful, creating a whole industry from the recycling and reuse of various materials such as steel, iron, animal bones and plastic bottles, which are bought, recycled and resold. In Jalalabad, such work has previously been carried out mainly with the recycling of steel or iron, but more recently, returning refugees, who used to collect suitable materials from rubbish, have brought over the trade to Jalalabad and other parts of Afghanistan, increasing it to include other materials.
I visited the Behsood district in Nangahar to meet with a shopkeeper working successfully in this trade. Dressed in his full work gear, while he hammered away at remoulding a piece of steel, Faridoon told me that he set up his own workshop after recently returning from Pakistan, where he was a refugee. “I am very happy to be doing this business, it is going really well. People do not know about this work recycling items, but in fact it is very profitable.”
Faridoon explained that a lot of the recyclable materials are bought by Afghans who were once refugees in Peshawar, but have now returned. “They take this recycled material to Torkham and get a lot of profit from it. Some of the steel and iron is being recycled and reused in Jalalabad.”
As more people manage to make profits from the recycling industry, naturally more shops have opened as others try to similarly tap into the business. Faridoon told me that he earns between 1000 to 1500 afghanis a day, but the opening of new shops has not affected him. “Everyone has a right to earn for themselves; what we need is for the government to help others and construct a suitable place where we can increase this industry.”
As Faridoon continued with his work, a steady stream of visitors and customers came to his shop, including Sharif Khan who entered carrying a large bag of recyclable iron sheets. “In our area, people just throw away all of their rubbish. Dry bread, cement bags – they just don’t understand that it’s all valuable, so I decided to start collecting this rubbish from the village and sell it here.”
Sharif was similarly pleased with his work, telling me that just one empty cement bag sold for 15 afghanis.“Before this work, I used to sell mobile phone calling cards, but that was not going well.” Like Faridoon, he also got into the industry while living in Pakistan as a refugee, “I used to collect rubbish and sell it in Nowshera town. When I came back to Afghanistan, I realised that people here did not know about recycling, so I decided to start this work.”
Faridoon’s business partner, Zahid similarly praised all the success the business had brought him, explaining that their work was going so well and demand so high that he now had plans to open another shop. “We can collect more recyclable material from Laghman and Kunar provinces and bring it to Jalalabad. I plan to hire another person, who can take the recyclable items to the border town of Torkham to sell.”
He said that many people had been forced to take their own initiative to find work, because the government was not providing enough jobs for them. “Making a halal living for ourselves is part of our worship. Everybody should try and earn his bread in an honest way.”
He also called on the government to invest in more projects to create such industries, “It is time for them to wake up and help the youth. I have seen so many young people become addicted to drugs, because they just cannot find work. The government needs to set up more workshops and factories, so that these young people can learn the trade.”
This feeling seemed to resonate with others working in Behsood, as another local shopkeeper commented, “The only solution is that people should take steps themselves to create work, because if they continue to expect the government to help them, they will lose everything and it will be too late.”