Trapped in the land of the Taliban-“The manhunt is on”

The West has withdrawn, and a large number of local workers remain in Afghanistan. They feel that they have been left in the lurch, that they are exposed to the arbitrariness of the Taliban. Do you have a chance to leave the country?

In Kabul, the Taliban are dancing in the streets. Armed fighters wave the white flags of the emirate of Afghanistan, on Wednesday they celebrated their “Independence Day” – their victory over the western invaders and over what they consider to be the treacherous Afghan government. The Taliban have regained power in the country, and after their troop withdrawal, the Western coalition looks at the celebrating Islamists with grudging teeth.

Kabul: The Taliban are celebrating their victory, white flags of the Emirate of Afghanistan are being distributed in the streets.  (Source: Reuters)

Kabul: The Taliban are celebrating their victory, white flags are being distributed in the streets. (Source: Reuters)

But appearances are deceptive: In Afghanistan, despair, hopelessness and fear are currently prevalent. The misjudgments by the West and the surprisingly rapid advance of the Islamists have resulted in many Afghans now living in fear of death. Suddenly they are trapped in their own country, hiding in friends’ homes and waiting for a chance to leave the country after all. Nobody can or wants to promise them that.

The Taliban are hunting them. t-online learned from local people: The Islamists are already breaking the promises they are making in Doha. Many refugees pass the Islamist checkpoints on the borders, but there are targeted killings. Escape from the country could become a death trap for many.

Under house arrest and forced into marriage

The story of Hadia is also marked by despair and hopelessness. She lives in Germany, t-online changed her name to protect her family in Afghanistan. Further details of her life that could provide information about the identity of her family are not mentioned, but are available to the editors. 

Kabul: The Taliban control the streets and have occupied the city's checkpoints.  (Source: Reuters)

Kabul: The Taliban control the streets and have occupied the city’s checkpoints. (Source: Reuters)

Hadia’s parents were killed during the Taliban’s rule from 1996 to 2001, she tells t-online. For the past 20 years, her siblings lived in the household of a European entrepreneurial couple, and the brothers managed the property. An acquaintance placed her as a labor force.

When the Taliban advanced, their employers fled and there has been no contact since then. The acquaintance who had arranged the job for them also went to Pakistan with all his papers. “A few days later we received news that he and his family had been shot at the border even though they had Pakistani passports,” says Hadia.

“You bought poison”

With him, the hope of being able to prove that her family was working for the West had also disappeared. After that, the Taliban came to the family home. The unmarried sisters were promised to an older Taliban, the siblings are now under house arrest by the Islamists. Women are no longer allowed to leave the house, men are only allowed outside to go shopping.

Refugees from Afghanistan want to pass at the Pakistani border: Again there is a crowd at a gate.  (Source: Reuters)

Refugees from Afghanistan want to pass at the Pakistani border: Again there is a crowd at a gate. (Source: Reuters)

“They bought poison,” says Hadia. “It is better to die once than to die again and again for a lifetime.” They didn’t expect the Taliban to come back. And even if they did: then you would have tried everything to get out of the country. At least that was the idea of ​​the horror scenario that is now reality for many. By working for Europeans, they have put their families in mortal danger.

The story of Hadia is not an isolated incident. After talking to local people, it became clear that the Taliban were looking for people who held higher offices in the Afghan government and were well connected. Former security forces are also at risk, especially if they were known in the past to have fought against the Taliban. For example, a bodyguard of President Ashraf Ghani, who had fled, was murdered last week. 

Escape or trapped in the Taliban country?

The Taliban’s promise of amnesty is therefore hardly credible for many Afghans. They flee or hide in their apartments, and many women no longer dare to go outside. If families are comparatively wealthy and have worked with Western forces, they run the risk of being betrayed by Taliban sympathizers. The Islamists are not only interested in revenge, it is also a raid in which the spoils of war are collected.

Herat: A local resident observes an armed Taliban fighter.  (Source: imago images)

Herat: A local resident observes an armed Taliban fighter. (Source: imago images)

“The Taliban don’t always kill,” explains Khaleg from Kabul to t-online. “Sometimes they just come by, threaten the family and take the car with them.”

The promised escape route, which was intended, for example, by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) as a sign of continued solidarity, is a horror trip. It is uncertain whether Afghanistan’s neighboring countries will open the borders – thousands of refugees could end up stuck in stony mountain landscapes in front of closed borders. A humanitarian catastrophe looms.

There are obviously differences as to which Taliban militia one falls into the hands of. Many people are checked and can travel on. But there is also murder, robbery and threats against families. The border areas with Pakistan in particular are firmly in the hands of the Taliban. The refugees are at the mercy of the Islamists on their death march – much like the evacuations in the West.

“There are people who have given up”

That is why t-online also spoke to Jonathan Schmidt-Dominé, who has been helping Afghan families flee the country from Germany for weeks. He is actually a literary scholar and does not work professionally in refugee aid. But through personal contacts in Kabul, he has made contacts since the beginning of the current crisis, networked with other helpers via social networks, created lists of people at risk and put people in need of help in families.

Schmidt-Dominé is in regular contact with people who want to be evacuated from Afghanistan. “There are people who have resigned themselves after the end of the airlift. Others are now on their way to the border, sometimes they have no travel documents at all,” says Schmidt-Dominé t-online. “They generally don’t know what to expect on the trip.”

The helpers convey the incoming inquiries to international offices – US MPs are also written to directly. Many people seeking protection from the Foreign Office are disappointed. “Overall, one can say that most of those affected have never heard from the Foreign Office,” says Schmidt-Dominé. “They don’t even find out whether they are classified as ‘particularly at risk’ by the German authorities.”

Ramstein: These refugees from Afghanistan made it to the US base in Germany.  (Source: AP / dpa)

Ramstein: These refugees from Afghanistan made it to the US base in Germany. (Source: AP / dpa)

The lack of reactions from the Federal Foreign Office caused additional uncertainty in the past few weeks. There were no replies to e-mails and the hotline was blocked around the clock. This is of course also due to the chaotic situation on site. It was only shortly before the end of the evacuations that the German authorities managed to set up an automatic response to the numerous e-mails. Until then, the panicked people wrote over and over again, trying to call the hotline at any time of the day. No getting through.

False promises?

The same applies to the promise made by the Western coalition that refugees from neighboring countries could now leave the country. Many Afghans made their way to Pakistan. Some of them knew the country because they had fled there before. But the Pakistani government does not actually want to take in refugees and if so, then only for direct transit to the airport in Islamabad.

Due to the corona pandemic, the country sees itself economically unable to take in many refugees. In addition, Pakistan relies on good relations with the Taliban in terms of security policy so as not to be caught between Afghanistan and the archenemy India. The western states made some promises to the people of Afghanistan before they were even negotiated. They are now threatening to become false promises.

Refugee workers, too, demand one thing above all from politics: reliable announcements that also work in practice. “People shouldn’t be given the choice of leaving their mother behind in Afghanistan or of staying and putting their lives in danger,” says Schmidt-Dominé. “That is why politicians must be made responsible not to erect any barriers to entry and family reunification. If the country is already being abandoned, we must not also leave these people behind.”

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