A year later, Afghans at risk await evacuation and relocation

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BARCELONA, Spain – More than a year after the Taliban takeover that saw thousands of Afghans rush to Kabul International Airport amid the chaotic U.S. withdrawal, Afghans at risk who won’t failed to board the evacuation flights say they are still struggling to find safe and legal ways out of the country.

Among those left behind is a 49-year-old interpreter who worked for a NATO contractor in 2010, accompanying convoys to Kandahar. Just six days after the Taliban arrived in the capital last August, they came looking for him.

“They came to my house and they threatened my son and my wife (when) I was not at home. They (then) destroyed my office,” he told AP via WhatsApp, referring where he taught English. He asked that his name not be revealed for security reasons.

This month, he was again interrogated by the Taliban for more than two hours.

During the chaotic days of the American withdrawal, he had tried several times to reach Kabul airport but, like many, had failed to get through massive crowds made even more dangerous by the attacks around the airport which left dozens dead. He then tried to leave Afghanistan by crossing the land border with Pakistan, but was stopped by the Taliban who demanded $700 per person to cross, a sum he did not have. To make matters worse, his passport is no longer valid.

Like millions of Afghans, he has also been affected by the country’s economic downturn, caused in part by international sanctions and the disappearance of foreign aid.

“We eat once a day,” the performer said. Yet he continues to hope that he and his family will leave Afghanistan at some point.

“I never give up because of my future and that of my children,” he said.

Since returning to power, the Taliban have been trying to move from insurgency and war to government, with hardliners increasingly at odds with pragmatists over how to run a country in the midst of a humanitarian and economic crisis. But a year later, they have so far failed to gain international recognition. Initial promises to allow girls to return to school and women to continue working have been broken.

Those who failed to evacuate include interpreters and drivers, but also female journalists, activists and athletes who say they cannot live freely under a Taliban-led government.

The United States, along with other Western countries, hastily evacuated more than 120,000 people, both foreign nationals and Afghan citizens, in August last year.

Some 46,000 Afghans who remained in the country after August 31 have since applied for humanitarian parole in the United States, according to the Migration Policy Institute. But only 297 have been approved so far.

Since there is no longer a US consulate in Afghanistan, asylum seekers must travel to other countries with consular services for in-person interviews.

The list of obstacles to leaving Afghanistan is long, starting with the difficulty of obtaining passports as offices close repeatedly due to technical problems.

“Today the vast majority of Afghans do not have access to a legal identity, which means that if they need tomorrow to be able to legally get to safety, they cannot,” said Nassim Majidi, co-founder and executive director of Samuel Hall. , an independent think tank that conducts research on migration and displacement. Majidi was speaking at a seminar organized by the Migration Policy Institute on the situation of Afghans in Afghanistan and abroad one year after the withdrawal.

According to the military alliance, around 2,000 Afghans and their families who worked for NATO, its agencies and member countries were among those evacuated from Kabul. But the evacuations were organized by individual member countries. NATO, as an organization, had no repatriation plan.

Evacuations from third countries still take place, albeit sporadically. Earlier this month, a plane carrying nearly 300 Afghans who had collaborated with the Spanish government landed in Madrid. Germany and France also continued to work on evacuation cases, Majidi said.

But thousands of Afghans are still living in uncertainty in third countries, including Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo and Albania, waiting for their applications for resettlement to the United States and Canada to be processed.

While lifesaving for many, the evacuations have also fractured families. Among them, that of an Afghan journalist who asked to remain anonymous, fearing for the safety of her relatives in Kabul.

“It was really hard to leave everything behind in an hour,” she told The Associated Press in a phone interview from her new home in Nijmegen, Netherlands, where she moved after years. months spent in a temporary refugee shelter.

The Dutch government had called her on August 26 to offer her a single place on an evacuation flight. Her relatives told her that she had to run away first if she wanted to help them.

A year later, three members of her family recently managed to be evacuated to France, she said. But despite repeated requests for family reunification in the Netherlands and other European countries, the majority of his siblings remain in Kabul, living opposite a police station now in Taliban hands.

On June 17, one of his older brothers was reportedly beaten to death by Taliban forces in the street after he was found carrying a picture of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance who fought the Taliban, she said.

A few days later, she said, the men showed up at the family’s home and forced them to sign a death certificate stating that he died of “natural causes”. The AP was unable to independently verify its claims.

With most of her family still in Afghanistan and numerous bureaucratic hurdles to contend with in the Netherlands, it was difficult to start a new life, she said.

“So far, it’s only darkness.”

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Associated Press reporter Rahim Faiez in Islamabad and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coverage of global migration at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

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