AFGHAN asylum-seeker Waheed Talwar had to leave his family behind to start a new life in Ireland in January, 2020, but he has found a whole new ‘family’ in his neighbours and friends in Millstreet.
Waheed has set up a successful food business in the town and says: “The people here in Millstreet are very nice and they have supported me since I opened the business.
“My landlord, Humphrey, who is a publican, is very understanding. He invited me to his daughter’s birthday,” adds Waheed, who has a 13-year-old daughter.
“And my good neighbour, Marie, offered to put me up in her house and she painted the back door of the shop for me!”
These people are like a new family to him.
“Everyone has helped me out, even my young friends who go to SuperValu for me if I run out of things for the shop when I am busy serving customers.
“It was difficult when I first started, but Humphrey, the gas engineer and the electrician have all helped me out and allowed me to pay them when I got going.”
Waheed certainly got a welcoming dose of good old fashioned Irish hospitality in Millstreet.
“Even though they didn’t know me, they still helped me,” he says.
“My solicitor was helpful too.”
Waheed runs Castle Pizza on Main Street, Drominahilla, Millstreet.
When I meet him, he is getting lunch ready, and he is obviously a good cook!
Once he was granted permission to work, he started his own pizza and takeaway restaurant close to Drishane Castle Direct Provision centre, where he lives and which houses 300 people.
Waheed misses his family and he fears for their safety, especially in the recent weeks of fighting, when the U.S announced it was pulling out of the country affer 20 years.
The Taliban have now seized control of the capital, Kabul, and their takeover of Afghanistan has undoubtedly put lives in danger and threatened human rights in new ways.
“We didn’t believe that the Taliban were going to take over the country,” says Waheed, 29, who studied and worked as a medicine dispenser.
“Even my family fled to Jalalabad ( a city in the east of Afghanistan) and then to Kabul as we believed it wasn’t possible for the Taliban to take over the capital. Now they have taken over every part of the country,” says Waheed who studied worked as a medicine dispenser.
When the Taliban took over, Waheed’s wife couldn’t work.
“My wife is a radio presenter. Her life was in danger. Females are not allowed in the workplace, only in hospitals as nurses or doctors.”
The situation is grave in Afghanistan.
“I am worried about my wife and daughter and my family, that something could happen to them,” says Waheed.
“The Taliban are in control. My family are still struggling and they are still unsafe.
“I am awaiting my interview with the International Protection Office (IPO), to explain the urgency of the situation and get my interview.
“I am told there is a delay because of Covid restrictions. I hope my application for residency here is speeded up and accepted so I can get residency status and reunification with my family.
“My goal is to bring them to safety. The logical choice is Ireland. We do talk on the phone, but that could change given the unpredictable situation in Afghanistan.”
Waheed can do other things too, once he has residency.
“I can drive a car, which is necessary for my business,” he says.
“I am presently depending on lifts.”
Waheed felt he had to leave his country, despite the wrench of leaving his wife and child behind, as the situation there was becoming more volatile at the end of 2019..
“Militants and people who work for the Government came to my place of work for treatment and we’d have to report them or we would be in trouble,” says Waheed.
“Warlords in the Taliban would send letters asking for financial contributions. It was scary. It got to a point where I could lose my life. There was widespread fear.”
But he adds of the re-taking of the county by the Taliban: “We could never see it coming; we were so shocked. “
The elders advised Waheed to leave his country.
“Things were never rosy there,” he admits. “It was all about survival and keeping rules.”
“I had no choice but to leave for my own safety. The advice from the elders and from family members was to get out.”
Waheed survived the arduous journey to freedom, from Jalalabad to Ireland.
“We travelled to Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, to Ireland,” says Waheed, who prays five times a day and who attends the Mosque in Killarney.
“We walked miles and miles and then travelled by boat.”
Tragically, some travellers didn’t survive the journey.
“We passed dead bodies on the ground,” says Waheed.
“It was so disturbing.
“There were up to 12 or 13 people who walked for up to 12 hours and who didn’t survive. They got left behind. It was unimaginable.
“People had to make the journey. They were desperate. The mountains we went through are covered with snow all year round.”
Waheed eventually made it to the ferry from France travelling to Ireland.
“People were traumatised and suffering from anxiety after the journey,” he recalls.
Some got left behind.
“There were four people to a boat. If they were too heavy, they weren’t allowed in the boat. Sometimes 10 people got into the boat.”
Waheed is still amazed that he made it to safety.
“Looking back, I don’t know how I survived. My fingers turned black and blue, it was so cold in the snow. The group of 100 people huddled together for heat.”
Waheed is lucky that he survived and that he has good people around him. But he is missing his loved ones.
“I’m lonely,” says Waheed. “My heart is heavy. I fear what might happen. There could be suicide attacks. My family could be targeted with threatening letters for money.
“It is still so dangerous in Afghanistan. There is general danger for everyone’s life there. There is no regard or respect for life. It is sad.”
Waheed gets busy serving up a tasty lunch while I am there. I want to know where he learned to cook?
“I worked in a hospital kitchen as well in Afghanistan, and I cooked for myself at work.”
What is his best seller?
“Fish and chips!” he says smiling.
“And the cheesy bites pizza and the kebab special are very popular. It is a speciality.”
What is the kebab special?
“It is like a pizza cake,” explains Waheed. “You use a pizza base and layer it with loads of kebab filling. It is delicious.”
Waheed is a good cook and he is a handy man.
“I did the flooring myself with cut outs,” he says. “I filled in the plaster board myself.”
He is kind too.
“I let my young friends make their own pizza and I offer them a soft drink. They like coming in here.”
When did he open for business?
“I opened in June last year,” says Waheed. “I walk for half an hour to work every day.”
He has no luxuries.
“I don’t need them,” says Waheed.
“I pay the people I owe money to.
“I make the dough for the pizza and I peel my own potatoes all by hand.”
Waheed has made a good fist of his business in Millstreet.
But he will only be fully happy when his application for residency is decided and he is reunited with his beloved family.
“I want that more than anything,” says Waheed.