Changed lives: The Afghan exile in London

Sami Aziz, is an Afghan refugee living in Britain and the founder of the Afghan association of London
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The Independent Online

I was shocked and horrified when I saw the attacks on the World Trade Centre on television. It was appalling – all those families and friends expecting them to return home from work. We Afghans have every sympathy. We know how hard it is to lose someone. We have often been victims.

The Taliban were a group of gunmen who took our nation hostage and the poor people of Afghanistan paid the price. We've never been lucky. The Afghans were victims of atrocities during the Cold War and now they are the first victims of the post-Cold War era. There are four million refugees in Pakistan and Iran. My family is scattered all over the planet.

So I had very mixed feelings after the attacks. I felt worried about the innocent people of Afghanistan who have suffered enough. But I realised there could be positive after effects. The international community has ignored Afghanistan for too long and now, in the wake of 11 September, it sees the atrocities committed there and the extent of the problem. Before we were forgotten and we suffered in silence. Twenty-three years of fighting had exhausted us and we wanted a better life.

The events of 11 September were a turning point. NGOs [non-governmental organisations] now have the opportunity to go to Kabul and other cities to try to prevent a disaster. I welcome the change in the situation as a result of the war, but there's still a lot of work to be done. It's very early to judge, but generally I'm optimistic.

Many Afghans, including myself, would love to see their country again, but you have to be practical. The infrastructure is not there. Skills that people may bring back to the country cannot be utilised. There's no system for absorbing returning refugees. We must wait. In the meantime, the new situation in Afghanistan shouldn't be used as a way of sending us back there. It must be a voluntary procedure.

The continual war in Afghanistan has made many people tired and the only way to solve our problems is for Afghans to get together, forgive each other and forget the past. That is the magic that will solve the crisis once and for all. Now there is a very real chance for that to materialise. I hope we won't waste this opportunity.