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It’s been a year and I can’t even express my feelings

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By Abobakar Fazil, with the support of Anna Alboth, MRG Media Officer

Trigger warning: This piece contains experiences of forced displacement and references to self harm.

My name is Abobakar, I am Afghan, and I am trying to hold in my emotions today, on 15 August 2022. It is the anniversary of the Taliban takeover of my country and for a year I haven’t had a moment of peace in my mind.

Since I woke up today, tears keep coming to my eyes. On this day exactly, we lost everything we worked so hard to build in the last 20 years.

We lost our flag, our president, our law, our democracy, our freedom of speech, our right to education and our work for women. I lost my family. I had to leave them behind. Only I was able to get out of the country. I am currently residing in the UK, in London.

It was all just gone, in a snap, in a few days. It felt like going back hundreds of years: in education, governance, plans and ideas.

Before

A year ago, I was doing my bachelor’s degree back in Afghanistan. I was in my third year. I was also working in a radio station, doing as much as I could do as a social activist. I wanted to contribute to my community: I spoke out about minority rights and women’s education. I tutored other students who were struggling in their first years of university.

As a member of Afghanistan’s young generation, we were hoping to see the country as a better place for all people: for women, for minorities, and anyone excluded from society, like LGBT individuals.

My father was a judge for almost 20 years in the former government of Afghanistan. Recently he was a chief judge in the public security department, dealing with Taliban, ISIS, Al Qaeda, smugglers, drug laws. Due to his job, we were known to the community.

15 August 2021

One year ago, when I woke up from my sleep, I was terrified to learn that overnight my father had received a call from the national department of security. They told him that the Taliban were going to take over the country and that his name was on their hit list, that they were not going to spare him and he should escape now.

That night, even though Kabul was then still holding, my father left and went into hiding. We were so stressed, in fear, I was watching the news, I was following everything closely. I went outside to see the blocked roads, police leaving their cars, everybody was trying to get to their houses. I could see the videos of Taliban who had already entered Kabul. In the evening, the news came out that the president had escaped the country. This really broke my heart. I knew the time had come when they would take over the city for real.

I heard loud gun shots near our house, everybody was shouting: my sisters, my brothers, we were all so scared in the house. Taliban were close, they were fighting all evening and night, and by 16 August I could already see them everywhere from the windows of my house.

The next couple of days were the hardest. I had to be ready every second that they could come, knock on our doors, and ask for my father or me. They were killing people, we knew that.

We lived close to the airport too: it felt like the whole country had come here, we heard guns and all those things. I couldn’t get out of the house. I had legal evacuation documents with me, I tried to enter the airport, without any success. I spent two nights and two days in front of it, but the Taliban didn’t let me enter. They were beating people, firing in the air.

In the meantime, every single day, I was thinking about ending my own life. I felt trapped, with nothing left. I knew I could not continue education and anyway, they would come for us one day. All of my work and my father’s work in the past had put us in the highest danger.

I was struggling mentally, there was no help available. My heart was beating so fast I was scared I would have a heart attack. I tried to kill myself once, during those days. I took a blade and I cut my left hand. I have those scars on this hand and every time I look at it, it reminds me of 15 August and those days, the worst time of my life. A time I would have never imagined seeing.

After

I was trapped. After the US and the international community left Afghanistan, the borders were closed. Our neighbouring countries closed their borders to us, they were not letting anyone in.

I spent almost a month and a half under the Taliban regime. I would never go out, never cut my hair or beard, in fear that I would be arrested. After the airport opened, with the help of some NGOs, I was saved and taken out of Afghanistan. Before, I begged governments, I reached out for help from all possible countries: the UK, France, Germany… no one was giving me a positive reply. It was the NGOs that helped me and got me out.

Now, thanks to a donation, my family also crossed the border to Pakistan. There, at least they have enough to eat and a roof above their head. They can’t afford education costs or medical bills. It has been a struggle and I am really worried about them. Their visas have expired, and they are living like prisoners. There is no way for me to bring them safely to me. Other governments agree that they are eligible for asylum and under threat. I will go on fighting to bring them to safety.

The situation is so different to that of Ukrainians: so many European countries have opened their doors to Ukrainian refugees who can travel without a visa, without anything. If I were Ukrainian, I would have my family sitting next to me right now.

No one would feel more sorry for Ukrainians than me as an Afghan, because we know the pain of leaving everything behind, of war in your country. I can understand their feelings, but I request the governments of EU countries not to discriminate between Afghans and Ukrainians. We both are vulnerable, and we all are victims of war and brutality.

Fortunately, I am in the UK. I am thankful to all the people who helped me. But I haven’t reached that point when you can take a deep breath and calm down, even for a moment. That moment when you say: ‘everything is going to be all right, we are safe now, we will have happy days in front of us!’

Looking ahead

My dream is that I will wake up and there will be a different Afghanistan. Women will go to schools and universities, as they used to. I hope a political solution can be found. I dream that Taliban are not in power in Afghanistan, that there is a more legitimate and inclusive government. I hope that my family is safe, my sisters are back in school and work, and my brothers are back in education.

Afghans must not be forgotten. European countries should treat all of us refugees equally. I hope European countries won’t recognize the Taliban government and benefit from cooperation.

Please don’t forget what we, the Afghan people, went through this year.

Further reading

Photo: Abobakar queuing in front of Kabul airport, August 2022. He couldn’t get inside. Courtesy of Abobakar Fazil.

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Filed Under: Middle East, Afghanistan
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