Toronto Star

Many Afghans hope for a chance to leave

Taliban takeover causes all levels of society to seek a way out of country

- BERNAT ARMANGUE AND LEE KEATH

KABUL, AFGHANISTA­N—As their flight to Islamabad was finally about to take off, Somaya took her husband Ali’s hand, lay her head back and closed her eyes. Tension had been building in her for weeks. Now it was happening: They were leaving Afghanista­n, their homeland.

The couple had been trying to go ever since the Taliban took over in mid-August, for multiple reasons. Ali is a journalist and Somaya a civil engineer who has worked on United Nations developmen­t programs. They worry how the Taliban will treat anyone with those jobs. Both are members of the mainly Shiite Hazara minority, which fears the Sunni militants.

Most important of all: Somaya is five months pregnant with their daughter, whom they’ve already named Negar.

“I will not allow my daughter to step in Afghanista­n if the Taliban are in charge,” Somaya told The Associated Press on the flight with them. Like others leaving or trying to leave, the couple asked that their full names not be used for their protection. They don’t know if they’ll ever return.

Ask almost anyone in the Afghan capital what they want now that the Taliban are in power, and the answer is the same: They want to leave. It’s the same at every level of society, in the local market, in a barbershop, at Kabul University, at a camp of displaced people. At a restaurant once popular with businessme­n and upper-class teens, the waiter lists the countries to which he has applied for visas.

Some say their lives are in danger because of links with the ousted government or with Western organizati­ons. Others say their way of life cannot endure under the hard-line Taliban, notorious for their restrictio­ns on women, on civil liberties and their harsh interpreta­tion of Islamic law. Some are not as concerned with the Taliban themselves but fear that under them, an already collapsing economy will utterly crash.

Tens of thousands of people were evacuated by the United States and its allies in the frantic days between the Aug. 15 Taliban takeover and the official end of the evacuation on Aug. 30. After that wave, the numbers slowed, leaving many who want to leave but are struggling to find a way out. Some don’t have the money for travel, others don’t have passports, and the Afghan passport offices reopened only recently.

The exodus is emptying Afghanista­n of many of its young people who had hoped to help build their homeland.

“I was raised with one dream, that I study hard and be someone, and I’d come back to this country and help,” said Popal, a 27-year-old engineer.

“With this sudden collapse, every dream is shattered. … We

“With this sudden collapse, every dream is shattered. … We lose everything living here.” POPAL AFGHAN ENGINEER

lose everything living here.”

The American University of Afghanista­n, a private university in Kabul, is arranging flights out for many of its students.

One student, a 27-year-old, recounted one attempt by the school to get evacuees to Kabul airport on Aug. 29, the secondto-last day when U.S. troops were there. In the chaos, buses carrying the students drove for hours around the capital, trying to find a route to the airport, he said. They couldn’t make it.

The student has been waiting for the past month for a spot on another flight arranged by the

university for himself, his wife and two young children. He hopes that once out, he can apply for visas to the United States. His family has packed up everything in their house, covering their furniture with sheets to protect it from dust.

In Pakistan, at the Islamabad airport, a group of American University students, freshly arrived from Kabul, waited to cross through immigratio­n. They will go on to sister schools in Central Asia.

But their families could not come with them, so they face the uncertain future alone for

the moment.

Without her family for the first time ever, Meena, a 21year-old political science student, cringed with humiliatio­n as an airport official shouted rudely at the students.

“I don’t know my future. I had a lot of dreams, but now I don’t know,” she said, starting to cry.

She showed the school pen she brought with her because it has the flag of her country on it, the one now replaced in Afghanista­n by the Taliban flag.

“We just burned our dreams ... we are just broken people.”

 ?? BERNAT ARMANGUE PHOTOS THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? One family has two suitcases packed with clothes and documents set to leave. They’ve unsuccessf­ully tried to leave Afghanista­n since the Taliban retook power.
BERNAT ARMANGUE PHOTOS THE ASSOCIATED PRESS One family has two suitcases packed with clothes and documents set to leave. They’ve unsuccessf­ully tried to leave Afghanista­n since the Taliban retook power.
 ?? ?? Meena, a student of the American University of Afghanista­n, holds a school pen with the U.S. and Afghanista­n flag.
Meena, a student of the American University of Afghanista­n, holds a school pen with the U.S. and Afghanista­n flag.
 ?? ?? Popal is a British citizen who was born in Afghanista­n.
Popal is a British citizen who was born in Afghanista­n.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada