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A former translator, a logistics coordinator with the US Embassy, and an English teacher who worked with the British Council narrate how they have been abandoned, despite their services.

Women standing in a line waiting
news Conflict Tuesday, August 24, 2021 - 21:57

Nahal* was the coordinator for US Embassy workers in Afghanistan, particularly women who had to venture into far-flung parts of Afghanistan. For weeks now, the Afghan woman has been waiting for documents from her American contacts to leave the country and go to the US. While the Taliban takeover of the national government happened recently, in her province – Kunduz – the group’s presence forced her and her three children to go into hiding in a single room in the suburbs of a major city a month ago. She arranged for a mobile phone with internet from a distant relative and waited for three days to confirm that nobody was tracking her before she spoke to TNM.

Nahal says she is being hunted by the Taliban because she was designated as a logistical consultant by the US Embassy employees, and was closely involved in distribution of welfare kits to women in rural Afghanistan by the previous government in collaboration with the Americans. This made her persona non grata for the Taliban. And since she has been left to fend for herself by her American allies, she has been in hiding, hoping for what seems like a miraculous intervention at this point – to get visas to escape what could possibly await her.

“The benevolence that the Taliban is showing on TV channels is farcical. I have seen women in my home town being dragged away even before the complete takeover because they had spoken against the Taliban. I have worked for the development of my country for many years now and this is how I have to pay,” Nahal tells TNM.

Another Afghan woman associated with the Americans is struggling similarly. Haliah* was working with the American officials till June 2021 as a translator. She and her family were based out of Herat in north-west Afghanistan. Just weeks before the Taliban takeover, they fled to another city and are currently in hiding. Before fleeing their ancestral home, they burnt all documents used in Haliah’s communication with American officials during the three years and four months of her work with them. Since they have fled, they have been able to speak to their extended family in Herat just twice and the news hasn’t been good – they were told that the Taliban have come asking for Haliah several times already.

Haliah had applied for an American visa for herself and her family several months ago but received a rejection email. Her contact in the American Embassy in Kabul had assured her that she will speak to the relevant officials and have the visa application processed. Even as they were waiting for some positive response, in a matter of days, the Taliban took over and most of the Americans Haliah had worked with left Afghanistan. “I have endangered not just my life but even that of my two daughters and my husband. We are now in hiding even as I desperately wait for my papers. We are not sure how long we can sustain with the money we have – we ended up spending an exorbitant amount to make it to the safe house we are in,” Haliah told TNM.

Haliah had applied for an American visa for herself and her family several months ago but received a rejection email. Her contact in the American Embassy in Kabul had assured her that she will speak to the relevant officials and have the visa application processed. Even as they were waiting for some positive response, in a matter of days, the Taliban took over and most of the Americans Haliah had worked with left Afghanistan. “I have endangered not just my life but even that of my two daughters and my husband. We are now in hiding even as I desperately wait for my papers. We are not sure how long we can sustain with the money we have – we ended up spending an exorbitant amount to make it to the safe house we are in,” Haliah told TNM.

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Not just the Americans, even the British seem to have abandoned Afghans those who trusted them and worked with them under the previous regime. Mehr* used to work as an English teacher working with the British Council, which has made her a target for the Taliban. Like the others, she too is currently in hiding with her husband and child, after fleeing from Mazar-i-Sharif.

Mehr applied for relocation through the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) many months ago, but has received neither an acknowledgement nor a rejection. “The Taliban has been conducting house-to-house searches for people like us. I have seen this happening from the window of the house I have been hiding in. We don’t even know what they are doing with the people they find. They go through all the documents of the family members to see what they did under the previous regime. We don’t know when it will be our turn and what will happen to us after,” she says.

The Taliban has not taken complete authority over Kabul, says Mehr. “But it is obvious that their thoughts are the same as before. They still cannot stand women being out on the streets by themselves. Already they have mandated that women should be accompanied by Mahram, a man from the family,” she tells TNM, speaking from a burner phone. She was forced to dispose of her old phone after she received calls from unknown men, calling and threatening her in Pashto.

Mehr says that over 150 teachers like herself who worked with the British Council in several Afghan provinces are left in the lurch with nowhere to go. They are all hoping that their visas for the UK come through, and they can leave Afghanistan for their safety, soon.

*Names changed on request

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