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Return and Reintegration in Times of COVID-19 | “Now I can make something out of my experience abroad”

A beneficiary in front of a banner advertising soft drinks. Pakistan.
Waqas started his started his soft drinks distribution business in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic © WELDO

Waqas came back to his native Punjab after 8 years spent in Europe. “I got a lot of experience in Austria, I learnt the language and also worked there. It was a good life experience. But life in Pakistan is better as I can be with my family. Life goes on, not too bad,” he smiles.

“Before I went to Europe, I was a civil draughtsman, which means I was working as an assistant for architects,” explains Waqas, adding that his reasons for going away were purely personal. It was a family dispute over land division that forced him to leave Pakistan in 2012.

Waqas’ father paid around 8,000 euros to enable his then 26-year-old son seek a safer future, flying him over to Turkey and then crossing the Aegean Sea by boat.

“I spent 8 months in Greece. The time in Athens was not that good; my father was sending me money to survive.” One day, Waqas decided to set off on a journey to try his luck in Austria, “Those two months on the road were extremely hard as I spent many days just sleeping in forests, without any food or water.”

Having reached Austria, Waqas first found himself in Gratz’s “Asylheim,” an asylum hostel, to then get a room and some allowance from the government. Gratz was to become his home for nearly six years. As his asylum application got approved, Waqas managed to learn fluent German and find a job as a cook’s helper.

Returning home after years in Europe

But the end of 2019 brought some unexpected news from home: the family dispute had gotten resolved and Waqas’ father gave him a green light to come back. Upon the man’s request, the Austrian authorities arranged for his return flight and informed him about the availability of ERRIN reintegration support in Pakistan.

In January 2020, Waqas held the very first meeting with WELDO, ERRIN’s local partner. Building on his experience in the food industry, he came up with a plan to use his reintegration grant for opening a soft drinks’ distribution company: “I actually got this idea from one of my friends, who said it was an easy way forward in Pakistan. I started the business already during the coronavirus pandemic.”

For the first two months after its official opening in June 2020, the company was doing pretty well; then Pakistan had to face another lockdown: “Because of COVID-19 things got a bit challenging. I was sitting at home for another two months. Most shops and restaurants were closed, so there was no way to deliver to them.”

Waqas also recalls that another challenge he had to face upon his return was the cultural shock he encountered after almost a decade abroad, as “everything was unlike in Austria.” But he faces the differences heads-on: “It’s just a new culture and new people for me to do business with.”

Waqas says that the most important thing now he is back in Pakistan is making more money and to open a new business.

“I got a lot of experience in Austria I would not have gotten in Pakistan. It was hard, but now I can make something out of it. I am thinking of starting a new business of trading baby diapers when things get back to normal. The world was better without COVID-19.”

A beneficiary in his drinks storage.
“Because of COVID-19 things got a bit challenging,” says the beneficiary © WELDO
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