Afghanistan – stories
They arrived, on Thursday 24th November 2022, on a flight from Pakistan. Families, women, men and children arrived in Italy with one of the humanitarian corridors for people fleeing Afghanistan. The corridors were facilitated by the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI) with the Community of Sant’Egidio, the Waldensian Board, Arci, Caritas, International Organization for Migration (IOM). We collected their voices in Islamabad, a few days before leaving for Rome.
Rome, 29th November 2022 – by Barbara Battaglia (NEV)
Life after 15th August 2021 had become a “nightmare”. Mohammad repeats it several times, while telling how Afghanistan has changed with the return of the Taliban. He calls them “monsters”. He has two books on the bedside table in the room where he lives with his family: one is a medical textbook, relating to his work in Kabul; the other one is “Italian for Dummies”, to learn Italian basics in view of the departure.
We met a second family: two small children, a couple, and an adult sister. In the house there are no books but only paper for drawing. Other relatives live nearby. They belong to a large group, they come from the province of Bamiyan, in central Afghanistan where, in 2001, the Taliban destroyed the statues of two Buddhas. They offer us a saffron tea. I ask him how the two parents met: “we are cousins”, they answer, they blush and smile, “she was passing under my window and I noticed her”. It will be the only moment in which their story is not tense, difficult, hard.
They belong to the Hazara ethnic group, as do the persons from another large group that we met in an apartment a few kilometers away in Islamabad. Husband, wife and a daughter of a few months old, grandfather and grandmother, both very young, and four other teenage children. He is a cyclist and a photographer (with 12 thousand followers on Instagram): he has sold his bike, he wonders when he will be able to race again. It was not possible to play sports under the Taliban. And it wasn’t possible or safe for him to continue living in Afghanistan because he coached girls. The mother has always been involved in politics at a local and regional level. The whole family has a history of engagement and activism. In a suitcase, when preparing for the flight to Italy, they brought a whole set of dishes.
Mr. Sediqi, was born in 1956 and has some health issues, he travelled on a cart to cross the border. He used to be a gardener and he is rejoining his family already in Italy. He has been accompanied in recent months, overcoming obstacles of all kinds, by a 17 years old boy who took care of him. “We have become a family,” he said, looking at his smartphone, like any teenager. He hugged his mother, who had managed to leave in July with the first flight of the humanitarian corridors, in Fiumicino, a few days after our meeting; she brought him a poinsettia.
H.S., journalist, photojournalist, human rights activist, also worked as an interpreter and , comes from Bamiyan – a place which used to be “famous for human rights, for the participation of people in public life, one of the most democratic and advanced towns in the country”. He tells us that many colleagues who remained there were unable to communicate. “After 2001, I had a hope that our country could be a place of freedom and I was doing everything possible, as an activist, to make this happen but with the arrival of the Taliban we lost everything, everything we had achieved in terms of rights”, he explains. Women are not allowed to “participate in public life or go to school, they cannot do anything”, minorities “are targets, constantly in danger”, as is anyone who protests. He speaks of “public torture”, summary trials, denial of all rights. “Afghanistan will be a problem for the whole world, if things do not change: we need to stop this dictatorship, to truly support rights, not only with slogans”, he concludes.
Nisar, who also talks of women, taught English to girls in Kabul, and this is why he had to flee. He lives with his mother, she would like to make herself useful to others, she worked in a beauty salon when she was younger, she says she knows how to sew and cook, especially Bor pilau, a dish made with rice and meat.” I had to hide, I changed my house and address constantly, until I managed to get to Pakistan”, explains the son.
Because “no one knows what is really happening in that country, right now”, adds Hakim Bawar, a young man. He will leave with his brother for Rome, who has worked for years with local and international organizations, NGOs, for human rights. “Believe me or not, sometimes I think it would have been better to die in Afghanistan, with my people, than to run away. There are millions of people who have no choice, they have to stay there. Women, for example, who have no alternative, if not to suffer, if not to be subjected to violence”. And he points the finger at Western governments. “People felt betrayed. Women, millions of women, have been delivered into the hands of the Taliban, it is hell for them. The West? They came twenty years ago and promised us democracy, prosperity, and instead they brought us the Taliban”. What should, could European countries, the West, indeed, do? “It’s too late. We don’t trust them anymore.”
The project of the humanitarian corridors from Afghanistan is carried out by Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI), Waldensian Board, Arci, Caritas, Sant’Egidio, International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The humanitarian corridors of the Protestant Churches are financed by the Otto per mille tax allocation of the Methodist and Waldensian churches; the reception of the beneficiaries is managed and implemented by the Waldensian Diaconiate and the FCEI.
For more information:
https://www.mediterraneanhope.com (site of the migrant and refugee program of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy, Mediterranean Hope) and https://www.nev.it/nev/category/mediterranean-hope/corridoi-umanitari/
Editor’s note, the names of the people interviewed have been changed, they appear only as acronyms or are not complete with names and surnames protect their safety and the vulnerability of their situations, their families and those who remained in Afghanistan.