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Return and reintegration in times of COVID-19 | “Once things get back to normal, I will be able to secure a better future for myself and my family”

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Arshad took a risky journey to Europe. After getting devastating news about the death of his son, he immediately decided to make his way back to Pakistan.

A long way to Europe

“I was 16 years old when I started working to support my family. Because of that, I only managed to finish secondary school,” says Arshad. After 20 years in a local jewellery business, he took a difficult decision to go abroad, seeking better economic opportunities and dreaming of a better future for his six children. Lured by the prospect of working in a car repair shop in Italy, promised to him by a“travel agent,” Arshad sold some of his land and property, waved goodbye to his wife and kids and set off on a journey to Europe in October 2015.

After long months on the road and some time spent in detention, he finally made it to Italy just to find out there was no work waiting for him there. He tried to survive for over two years, holding onto any seasonal jobs available, such as fruit picking and delivery. Willing to take one more chance on staying in Europe legally, Arshad traveled to France and applied for asylum upon arrival in September 2019. However, while his case was still in progress, Arshad learnt about the tragic death of one of his sons. He decided to come back home in late November. “It was the only right decision to make,” he says.

Reintegration in times of COVID-19

When he first met with WELDO, Arshad already had a clear idea of what he would like to do with his ERRIN reintegration grant – he wanted to invest in an already running jewellery shop. This way, he acquired 40% of Madina Jewellers in the city of Lahore, building on his past business experience and expertise.  However, the coronavirus pandemic breaking out shortly afterwards resulted in some unexpected developments – as Pakistan devalued its currency, the prices of gold skyrocketed dramatically.

Arshad tells us that he has witnessed a steep decline in jewellery sales ever since. Not only people are worried to purchase luxurious goods, but also stores like Arshad’s were not allowed to re-open his store for several months. There is yet another reason why the lockdown fell at a very unfortunate period of the year: “January till May are the crucial months when weddings are planned and arrangements for the jewellery and related stuff are made,” he explains.

“It all occurred in the peak wedding season and the government imposed a strict lockdown which was hurting the business owners. But the usual monthly expenses, such as utility bills and the rent were still there, no matter what the situation.”

Although at the moment of speaking the measures have been relaxed, Arshad says the sales are not back to even 5% of what they should be. “Also, on average June, July and August are the warmest months in the summer season when weddings aren’t normally arranged. So customers don’t come now.”

Arshad admits he is disheartened by the current situation, as “the business is shrinking and the opportunities are getting slimmer and slimmer every day. But the most important issue for me was getting back to my family and mourning the loss of our son together.” He says that he lets life take its course and remains optimistic that once things get back to normal, he will be able to secure a better future for himself and his family.

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