‘We have lost everything’

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‘We have lost everything’

There is no place called home for Afghans forced to leave their country for Europe, writes Ritu Mahendru.


A family from Afghanistan at the Friendship Gate crossing point, in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border town of Chaman, Pakistan September 6, 2021. REUTERS/Abdul Khaliq Achakza

When Leida (not her real name) left her home in Kabul last month, she faced so many problems she did not expect. It started with the dangerous journey to the airport. She had to cross the sewage canal and go through Taliban checkpoints with her one-year-old daughter and her now unemployed husband. When the Taliban took over Afghanistan, the family were among thousands of people likely to be their targets, because of his job.

‘We have lost everything,’ Leida told New Internationalist. ‘I was in the canal water for hours that had human faeces and animal remains – it was very dirty. We dropped our bag of food.

‘I waited for three days at the airport before the bomb exploded at the Abbey Gate. When we finally got on to the military plane, which could carry 100 people, there were over 200 people there. There was no place to sit. We stood for nearly 11 hours with my daughter. They refused to give us food and water because there was only one toilet and no one could use it. When we got a bottle of water, the soldiers threw the bottles on our heads. I don’t know why they couldn’t be kind to us.’

Leida and her family arrived in a European country. They may be safe from the Taliban for now but the future is very uncertain. ‘I am lucky but we are still nervous and scared,’ Leida told me over the phone. ‘We have no idea where we will go next. My husband is worried about the future, his job, and looking after us. I was a Master’s student of International Relations in Afghanistan. I am not sure if my university will take my thesis online because now there is another regime – not the previous one with internet, calm, and teachers.

‘My hard work, our home, everything is destroyed. We are worried about our future. Are we going to have a job? This is confusing for us.’ Thousands of Afghans are looking for safety in Europe, North America, and other places. The Taliban is known for following brutally radical Islamic law. After it took over Afghanistan, it said that it will not persecute anyone who has worked with the government or international agencies. Recent reports say that, ‘The Taliban has a special unit, called Al Isha, to find Afghans who helped US and allied forces – and it’s using US equipment and data.’ There are often reports from Afghanistan about the Taliban taking women away from official jobs and asking them to stay at home. The Taliban made these promises 25 years ago when they were in control of Afghanistan. But they stopped women from having education and jobs, and they made them wear burqas (full covering from head to toe) saying it was Sharia Law.

The future for many Afghans looks bad. There are worries that Afghanistan can again become a place for terrorists and organized crime groups. There are stories that we are likely to see many Afghan refugees in Europe. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, warned that up to half a million Afghans could leave the country by the end of 2021.

To avoid the same problem of refugees and migrants in 2015, mainly from Syria, EU leaders want to find a quick solution. But EU politicians are divided and repeat what they said in the past that ‘refugees aren’t welcome here’. Turkey helped with the 2015 crisis with help from the EU and took millions of Syrians, but Turkey says it will not take any more refugees. Greece has built a 40 kilometre fence and surveillance system on its border with Turkey.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša, are refusing to take any Afghans trying to cross borders. The UK government suggested that Afghans can come to the UK border independently – this of course may put their lives in danger. Afghan refugees also face problems outside of Europe. From 2020, Pakistan and Iran together were already taking over 2 million refugees from Afghanistan – compared to 9,000 in the UK and 2,000 in the US. Now, neighbouring countries have shut their borders until western governments say that Afghan refugees won’t be there longer than 10 days.

Australia has an advertising campaign to stop Afghans from trying to reach the country by boat. In the video, Karen Andrews, Minister of Home Affairs, says that refugees will have ‘zero chance of success’ in coming by boat. New Zealand, a country with a good record of helping in a crisis, has stopped taking visa applications – even from Afghans who helped their military.

In the US, Biden plans to take tens of thousands of Afghan refugees. But reports say that only a small number from Kabul can have refugee protection in the US. Canada promised to take 20,000 Afghans who supported the government. But none of these plans will move Afghans to safety immediately.

Politicians in Europe are worried migration from Afghanistan would make the rightwing anti-immigrant supporters stronger and would not help more centre and centre-left political parties. EU leaders are trying to be stricter on immigration to avoid ‘the mistakes of 2015’. They are not really thinking about Afghan women and children who are experiencing the power imbalance between the East and West. They are talking about Afghans’ like things, numbers or cattle, but they are human beings trying to run away from global inequalities. Afghans will soon find they are trapped and they will have to go on journeys along dangerous smuggling routes.



(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)