Afghan Refugees Are Still Reliving the Trauma of Escaping the Taliban

As Europe contends with the refugee crisis created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, tens of thousands of Afghans who fled the Taliban are still struggling to adjust to their new reality.

15 March 2022, 10:23am

Gulalai Karimi was a TV presenter when the Taliban completed their lightning-fast takeover of Afghanistan last August, forcing her to leave the country and abandon her dream job. “I had just built a beautiful life,” Karimi, 24, told VICE World News via WhatsApp. “Everything is just ruined; I have started to have trauma since the Taliban took power.”

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She is among dozens of Afghan journalists evacuated to France following the Taliban’s return. Karimi says she cannot pursue her career as a presenter because of language difficulties.

As Europe grapples with the new refugee crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, thousands of Afghans evacuated last year are still struggling to adjust to their new reality, where they are effectively starting from scratch. They were once judges, prosecutors, journalists, doctors and lawmakers, but they are all now refugees.

Many Afghans have already found homes in Europe since the Taliban returned to power. Last year 15 EU countries committed to accepting 40,000 people from Afghanistan who worked with Western-backed organisations.

But many are still waiting to be evacuated.

Germany has committed to accept 25,000 people, the Netherlands more than 3,100 with Spain and France 2,500 each, according to a document obtained by the Reuters news agency.

Other Afghans have found new homes outside of Europe, but the situation is no easier. “It is not an interesting process by any chance, it is full of stress, depression, hopelessness and obstacles,” Shenkay Karokhel, a former Afghan MP, who is now in Canada, told VICE World News.

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Karokhel is among tens of thousands of refugees airlifted by western nations following the Taliban takeover last August.

“It has never been an option to leave my country,” Karokhel added.

More than six months after the Taliban’s takeover, hundreds of Afghans still line up in Kabul and the provinces every day to try to obtain passports to leave the country. As the majority of diplomatic missions have withdrawn, Afghans mainly apply for visas to Pakistan and Iran.

“It is like being hanged while still being alive. The shock of the Taliban takeover remains in my mind, being away from my homeland and losing everything makes me suffer more,” Zabihullah Ghazi, 29, an Afghan journalist, now a refugee in the US, told VICE World News. “I have seen a psychologist two times so far.”

Afghan migrants in Turkey last August. Photo: OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images

The biggest challenge professional Afghans are facing is that their qualifications are often not accepted by Western countries.

“It is almost impossible to continue to work as a dentist here in the United States,” Abdullah Saadat, 28, told VICE World News. “We know we have started having mental problems, but we have no other choice.”

“Anyone wishing to migrate must be mentally and physically prepared to do hard things, you cannot do what you used to.”

Sharafuddin Azizmi, a psychologist who advises his fellow Afghans, said: “It is the beginning of a new chapter, Afghans with professional backgrounds may face depression, sleeplessness, desperateness, seclusion and the feeling of worthlessness.”

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About 76,000 Afghans have been brought to the US since August. The US Department of Homeland Security has said about 40 percent are qualified for the SIV (Special Immigration Visa) and the rest do not qualify for permanent legal residency in the US. The remaining are accepted as Humanitarian Parole which allows the evacuees to remain in the US for up to two years and are granted work permits. 

Organisations supporting refugees are pressing Congress to pass the “Afghan Adjustment Act”, giving permanent residency to Afghans who are now in limbo.

Afghan refugees after arriving in Spain last August. Photo: PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP via Getty Images

 “We don’t know what future waits for us; we don’t have even a clue about it. But I know it will be full of disappointment,” Lutf Ali Sultani, an Afghan reporter who migrated to the US, told VICE World News.

Sabera Saba, like dozens of Afghan prosecutors, used to investigate the crimes of senior government officials. She, like hundreds of women police officers, is uncertain of her future. 

“Almost all of the refugees in the camps were hopeless. No one is ready to restart from scratch,” Saba, 28, told VICE World News.  “We could see the disappointment on the faces of everyone.”

But the situation is even worse for those who remain stuck in refugee camps. Among those, are judges, prosecutors, and former employees of the Afghan government, CIA’s Afghan affiliates and some politicians who had been evacuated to the UAE last August.

Afghan refuges watch a football match in the US last September after flying out of Afghanistan. PHoto: BARBARA DAVIDSON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

“They are evacuating people from Kabul and everywhere but not from here, I don’t know why,” a former Afghan intelligence employee who cannot be identified for security reasons, told VICE World News from a refugee camp in the UAE where about 10,000 Afghans are still based. “What is our fault? I don’t think anyone’s life would be in danger more than ours.”

Camp residents have held protests and asked the US to evacuate them. The protests ended after the residents were assured of evacuation, according to the refugees living there.

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“It is like prison for us now, everybody is getting mad,” a former prosecutor who is living with his family in the camp, told VICE World News.

With the humanitarian crisis getting worse in Afghanistan, the number of Afghans migrating to neighbouring countries has risen. “Between 4,000 and 5,000 Afghans are fleeing into Iran each day via informal border crossings,” the Norwegian Refugee Council said in a report.

Many are still paying to illegally migrate to European destinations via Turkey and Greece. They have to go through the dangerous sea routes which have already cost the lives of tens of thousands of people over the last decade.

“I paid $6,000 (about £4,400) in advance to get us to Turkey; I don’t know if I will make it but I am worried what will happen if we run out of money,” an Afghan journalist, who currently resides in Iran with his family, told VICE World News via WhatsApp. “There is no opportunity for journalists now. What will I do if I get back to my country? Everyone is hungry there.”

However, there are Afghans who prefer to stay in the country despite losing their jobs and career.  

“I stay unless there is a real threat to my life,” Nooria Nazhat, 28, a former government spokesperson, told VICE World News. “Whenever I hear my colleagues doing low labour jobs abroad, then I think it is better to sacrifice my life for my country than leaving.”

Camille Le Coz, an expert with Migration Policy, a Brussels-based research institute, says due to a lack of opportunities abroad, many had decided to stay in Afghanistan and believe the country could function.“In addition to the trauma of fleeing their homeland, they have lost access to many professional opportunities.” 

“Access to the labour market in general is a key challenge for refugees, many of them end up being overqualified for the jobs they find,” said Helene Soupios-David, head of advocacy at France Terre D’asile, a Paris-based organisation supporting refugees.

“My country is poor, it is not secure but I will never have the happiness I had in my homeland,” Zabihullah Ghazi, a 29-year-old journalist, who has migrated to the US, told VICE World News. “I tell my friends our happy days are gone now, now we are living until death comes.”

“We had to choose between worse and the worst,” Ilyaz Masnoor, 26, an Afghan journalist who migrated to the US, told VICE World News through WhatsApp. “We made a living with 20 years of study and work, but we lost everything like thunder.”

Tagged:

Taliban, refugees, Afghan refugees, worldnews

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