Aisha Ahmad was desperate. On Monday, the 22-year-old woman joined thousands of Afghans at Kabul airport scrambling for a seat on an evacuation plane.
But instead of a ticket to a life where she could travel freely and finish school, what she got were a few bruises, after being caught in the chaotic jostle. She staggered home and returned to her last resort: social media.
The day before, as the Taliban effectively seized control of Afghanistan, the college student tweeted about her search for asylum.
“I have asthma and cannot wear #burqa (chadari), and I want to finish my education,” she said, adding that she was willing to go to any country.
Her tweets have resonated with anguished Afghans seeking to leave the country as it fell to Taliban rule. Many others have similarly pleaded online for other countries to take them in, adding to the pressure on the United States and other wealthy nations to help resettle Afghans.
Ahmad uses a fake name online to protect herself from potential retaliation by the Taliban, a fear that was only amplified by the threats she received. “U are people who pestering the Taliban [sic],” read a direct message she got following her tweet, which has been shared over a thousand times. “We will kill u.”
Speaking to VICE World News over text and voice messages, Ahmad said the Taliban had traumatized her mother during their rule from 1996 to 2001, and she did not want to experience it.
“Don’t forget Afghan women,” she said in a tweet on Tuesday.
On TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, a few Afghan creators sought to draw attention to their country’s plight. In one viral video with over 2 million views, an Afghan girl is seen crying and saying, “No one cares about us. We’ll die slowly in history. Isn’t it funny?” Hundreds of thousands of TikTok videos use hashtags such as #HelpAfghanistan and #FreeAfghanistan.
Many more voices remain unheard—only about one in ten Afghans use social media.
In some parts of the country captured by the Taliban, the group has reportedly prevented women from going to schools and banned them from leaving their homes without a male companion.
Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, has sought to assure the safety of diplomats and aid workers in the country and rejected “baseless” accusations that the hard-line Islamist group forced women to marry its fighters or that it killed prisoners.
An Afghan-origin professor who lives in the U.S. said he feared for his family who was still in the country. He tweeted that the Taliban had threatened his sister, who worked for the government in Kabul, and that she had received a threatening letter.
“Things were getting bad this summer, with the pulling out of the U.S. troops and abrupt decisions of the international community to abandon 38 million people,” he told VICE World News. “I could see that people were already trying to get out, although not in the way you saw yesterday, with such acute desperation. Nobody expected things to get bad so soon.”
He said he is trying to get his family asylum in India.
Ahmad, too, believes that it is abroad where she can enjoy free speech, education and mobility. “These are the basics of freedom, but I don’t believe I can get it if I stay back. I will definitely go out even if it costs me a lot,” she said.
Some paid the ultimate price in search of those freedoms. At least seven Afghans died while trying to get aboard U.S. evacuation flights. Three men reportedly clung to a military plane’s exterior and fell off midair. At least one person was found dead in the wheel well of an aircraft after it landed in an American airbase in Qatar.
The Biden administration said it would offer resettlement to thousands of Afghans at risk of Taliban retaliation, such as those who worked for the U.S. government. Canada said it would resettle 20,000 Afghans, focusing on women leaders, human rights defenders, journalists, and persecuted religious and gender minorities. Several European countries have paused deportations and agreed to accept more refugees.
On Twitter, people have also shared resources and leads for asylum applications. While the professor is uncertain about his family’s future, he appreciated the outpouring of support and empathy. “In dark times like this, I needed to see that humanity is still alive,” he said.
“More than those who get out, I am hopeful for those who stay back,” he said. “I hope they survive and live in peace, which is a big dream.”
Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.