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Wednesday, 26 September, 2001, 10:18 GMT 11:18 UK
Sikhs 'trapped' in Afghanistan
Sikh gurudwara
Many Sikhs are taking refuge in temples
By Vineeta Dwivedi in Delhi

Most of the Sikh community in Afghanistan have taken refuge in gurudwaras (Sikh temples) as fears grow of possible military action against the Taleban, according to a voluntary organisation in the Indian capital, Delhi.

Sikh women
There are about 1,500 Sikhs still in Afghanistan
The Afghan Hindu-Sikh Welfare Society says there are at least 1,500 Sikhs still living in different parts of Afghanistan, but they are unable to leave because they don't have travel documents.

These Sikhs are amongst those who went to Afghanistan centuries ago as traders or businessmen.

Until the invasion by Soviet forces and the start of conflict in the 1980s, a number of Sikh families in Afghanistan were prospering.

But after the outbreak of war, these affluent members of the community fled back to India.

However, this was all but impossible for the less privileged members of the Sikh community.

Travel problems

The Delhi office of the UNHCR says Sikh families are living in at least five Afghanistan cities - Ghazni, Kabul, Jalalabad, Ilmand and Kandahar.

The Delhi president of the Afghan Hindu-Sikh welfare society, Sardar Manohar Singh - who himself returned from Afghanistan in 1979 - told the BBC that these Sikhs stayed either because they didn't have passports or because visas were no longer available.

Ever since the Taleban took over in Afghanistan, India has not had any diplomatic mission there, making it impossible to obtain visas.

Mr Singh also said that a few Sikh families went to Afghanistan a couple of years ago - despite the unsettled political atmosphere - because they had no other means of survival.

They found jobs as unskilled labourers.

The families of those Sikhs say they hardly if ever receive news about their relatives in Afghanistan.

See also:

26 Sep 01 | South Asia
UN plea for open Afghan borders
23 May 01 | South Asia
Taleban justify tagging Hindus
20 Dec 00 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
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