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Return and reintegration in times of COVID-19 | “We need to support each other to make it through this pandemic”

Iltaf in front of his store in Quetta, Pakistan Ⓒ WELDO

Iltaf returned to Pakistan to run a cosmetic store. He says that the best thing about coming back home is being with his family during the challenging times of COVID-19 pandemic.

In search for better opportunties

Iltaf has been taking care of his household ever since he can remember. The eldest of siblings, he had strived to support his family working as a taxi driver. “I was young when I started working to financially support my family,” he says. “I could not finish school as my family couldn’t afford it.” Seeking better economic opportunities, Iltaf sold his taxi and paid a “travel agent” to get to Europe.

After almost three weeks spent crossing Iran, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Hungary; he finally reached Austria in September 2015 and applied for asylum there. He managed to secure a job distributing leaflets for a small business.  As his asylum claim got rejected, he decided to voluntarily return to Pakistan, despite having filed an appeal – he says that he knew his chances of securing a legal stay were slim. He returned in November 2019, informed about the reintegration support available back home.

Doing business in lockdown

At his first meeting with WELDO, Iltaf already had an idea about what to do next. With the reintegration grant from ERRIN, he acquired an existing cosmetic store, which he has been running ever since. But after the coronavirus pandemic stroke, Quetta, Iltaf’s hometown, suddenly became one of the COVID-19 epicentres in Pakistan.

Iltaf says he could not open his store for over two months, but still had to cover for his siblings’ school fees, the rent and utility bills for the commercial space – as well as for the house where his family lives. This caused him serious financial distress. “Cosmetics are not considered to be essential products by the government,” explains Iltaf. “That’s why I am still not allowed to open my store on a daily basis.”

Iltaf could not open his store for over two months at the peak of pandemic Ⓒ WELDO

Ali Cosmetics Store is now open from 8 a.m. till 7 p.m., Monday to Thursday. The heat of the summer months also translates into a lower number of customers. “I am trying to run my business online too, and deliver cosmetics to my customers, but this solution is still not very popular in the area.”

“Despite everything, I am glad that I returned back to Pakistan to be with my family during this challenging time. We need to support each other in the best possible way to live through this pandemic.”

Iltaf is striving to run his business as effectively as possible, facing the existing challenges heads on. “I am confident that my business will get back to normal after the lockdown and I will recuperate my financial loss in no time. Then I will be able to provide an even better future for myself and my family.”

Iltaf says that he would encourage his compatriots with no legal right to stay in Europe to return to Pakistan: “Although there are problems in our country, at least here we live with our family.” Based on his own experience, he says that investing in Pakistan is a better solution than spending the money on taking irregular routes to Europe.

“These people should learn from the life experience of us, returnees,” he concludes.

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