“I talked to my nieces two weeks ago for the last time when they were on a bus on the way to the airport in Kabul. The last we heard from them was that the plane to the United Kingdom was filled up with people. It’s terrifying”, explains International Psychology student Sabrina Jammy (25) as tears run down her cheeks. “You just don’t know what’s going to happen. I feel powerless and my family is constantly living in fear. Afraid to be taken out of their home in the middle of the night.”
Sabrina being able to flee Afghanistan with her parents years ago while other family members were left behind sometimes gives her a feeling of guilt. “Why me and not the others? It’s out of my hands that I ended up here, just like all the misery there now is out of the hands of Afghans.”
There’s just misery
Medical student Zynab Zia (25) who is doing an internship at the Erasmus MC knows the feeling. “I’m regularly in touch with my cousin, but I haven’t dared to phone my family in the last two weeks. What am I supposed to say? I’m safe here and can’t really know what they’re going through there.” A talk with the doctor who is counselling her changed that. “He said I should phone, because then at least they’ll know that I’m thinking about them and feeling for them.”
And that contact was needed, since her cousin appeared to have lost all hope. “Only suffering isn’t what you would expect of life. The Taliban has brought nothing good in the past 25 years. I have no faith in them or their promises.” It’s particularly (highly) educated women who are afraid of losing their self-determination, says Zynab. “My cousin wears a hijab because she chooses to, but making it compulsory makes her feel gloomy and defeated.”
No going to school
“We came to the Netherlands when I was nine. Very many of my memories of Afghanistan are directly or indirectly to do with school”, explains Zynab. “When I was five, I really wanted to go to school but it wasn’t allowed. My mother didn’t need convincing, but the school was too far away and the way there was dangerous. After a lot of complaining and crying, I was allowed to join the other girls. Sometimes we saw a car with armed men inside. ‘Don’t look like you’re going to school’, the other girls said to me. They had a headscarf on and hid their school bag under it.”
Threatening letters were left behind when, later on, the girls could go to a school in their own village. “No one knew where they came from and we didn’t take them seriously. Then one day, the building was set on fire. Afterwards, there were a number of attempts to get the girls to school and keep them there, but to no avail.” With the Taliban seizing power, Zynab is particularly sad that girls may no longer go to school.
“At home, the news is on the whole day, in Farsi and in Dutch”, says medical student Farog Faghir (25), who moved to the Netherlands with his parents when he was a year old. His mother is very worried about her brother and sister. “A part of my family is Shiite, so they have been targets for murder by the Taliban for decades. They say they will not do it now, but no one trusts them. Very many minorities and political opponents were also murdered during the advance to Kabul.”
Farog’s uncle has worked as an electrical fitter for an American company, while his cousin worked with the German government in administration. “We are worried about them and are trying to get them away from there, but it’s not easy.”
Sabrina agrees that the promises made by the Taliban are a farce. She says it is still a terrorist organisation. “The same one that the war on terror was started against. Only their words have changed. Women may only earn 60 percent of the salary of a man, men must all have a beard and may not talk to women. As a woman, you may go to university, but you may not have a male lecturer. That makes it difficult for women to study because there are far too few female lecturers”, Sabrina says worriedly.
Together with her family, Sabrina is organising ‘Freedom for Afghanistan’ on 11 September, a protest at the Willemsplein in Rotterdam. “We want Afghanistan to be declared unsafe so the people who are trapped or in danger there can be taken away from there. The Lower House will only be discussing this in October.”
The way the Dutch politicians are dealing with the situation in Afghanistan is also upsetting others. Farog says asylum policy in the Netherlands must be more sympathetic. “It’s unthinkable that just a few weeks ago there was talk of sending Afghan refugees back. Now it has been decided that no one will be sent back in the next six months. Then there will be talks again. But it hasn’t been safe in the country for thirty years now.”
With the bad news coming out of Afghanistan in recent weeks, Zynab is trying to understand how the power take-over could have happened. “There was a form of democracy, but corruption and crime meant the situation in Afghanistan was really bad. Children were being kidnapped, people were being threatened on the street for the most trivial things and there were casualties on all sides. There was a lot of dissatisfaction.”
So she believes it was logical that a new force would move in. “The Taliban has never been away and was just waiting for the right time. And now, history appears to be repeating itself yet again.”
For the time being, Zynab thinks it’s important that the population is not identified with the regime. “The Netherlands does not want to invest in a country led by the Taliban, but ask yourself what that will mean for the people. The international isolation before the American invasion meant inflation was rife, the economy was in ruins and there was barely enough to eat. There were no women’s rights at all. That can’t happen again. Please let us not forget Afghanistan.”
With thanks to Shugufa Kakar, Hila Mohamad and Rateb Abawi for their efforts that contributed to this article.