Afghan exiles fear relatives are trapped under Taliban

Afghans who have found sanctuary in France in recent years now fear the relatives they left behind will be permanently trapped and could face reprisals from the Taliban for their links to the West.

Several Afghan refugees told AFP they regretted not pressing their relatives to leave the country sooner, after the Taliban takeover caused chaos that has seen civilian flights suspended.

French President Emmanuel Macron promised on Monday that France would “protect those who are most under threat in Afghanistan” while also vowing Europe would put together a “robust” initiative to thwart illegal migration and in particular people-smuggling networks.

“My father and brother worked for the Americans for three years. They left Kabul to hide a few miles away because the Taliban are looking for those who have helped the West,” said Nosar, 24, a refugee in France since 2018. His father and brother filed visa applications with the American embassy several weeks ago but these have — for the moment – remained unanswered, he said.

“Now that the diplomats are evacuated, I fear that it is too late,” said Nosar. “In Kabul, everyone is in shock, it happened so quickly.” “The president is gone, it’s all over,” he added, referring to president Ashraf Ghani who flew out of Kabul for an unknown destination as the Taliban took control.

Many Western diplomats have already been flown out of Kabul although some embassies are retaining a skeleton staff around the airport to process visa applications.

‘Waited too long’

Like many Afghans, Nosar fears that the Taliban will once again impose the extremist vision of Islamic law that was in effect when they ruled the country between 1996 and 2001.

“The Taliban claim they are more moderate than before. But no one is fooled. With them in power, the Afghans will be deprived of their fundamental rights,” said Nosar.

Images of Afghans crowding planes on the tarmac of Kabul airport and even clinging onto the undercarriages of aircraft have shocked the world and underlined the desperation of many to leave. “It is their last chance before the airport comes under the control of the Taliban,” said Afghan exile Reza Jafari, who heads the Paris-based organisation Children of Afghanistan and Elsewhere.

Sonila, who left Afghanistan in 2017 and asked for asylum in France, fears for her husband who stayed in the country to work for the United States and planned to join her at a later date. “He waited too long,” said Sonali, 28, adding that poor Internet connections make any contact with him difficult. “Maybe he will try to find sanctuary in a refugee camp in (neighbouring) Tajikistan for a while. He would be safer there. But we will always be separated,” she said, her voice trembling.

‘For how long?

Hashon Hassani, 21, a refugee in France since 2019, had hoped up until Sunday that his sister, 20, would get a visa allowing her to join him.

But he fears she will now suffer ahead of an expected clampdown by the Taliban on women’s rights.

“Wherever they go, the Taliban take girls and women. From the age of 12, they can be married. What if my sister was forcibly married?” said the psychology student from the University of Villetaneuse, in the Paris region. Like hundreds of Afghans worried about the advance of the Taliban, his sister applied for a passport in Kabul two weeks ago, “but she did not receive it in time.”

“Now the roads are cut, the embassies evacuated. For the moment, French diplomats are still issuing visas, but for how long?” asked Hassani.

France, like several other European countries, has suspended the expulsion of Afghan asylum seekers. More Afghans applied for asylum in France in 2020 than from any other nation.

Macron also said France was ready to help Afghan activists, artists and journalists who risk being targeted because of their work but it is not immediately clear what numbers this will entail.

“It is not enough,” said Jafari. “What is needed is that the government says all Afghan citizens can have asylum.”

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