Desperate Afghans are asking us for help to get to safety

Two years after the evacuation, many Afghans are in greater danger than ever. We bring here three of the many emails that we have received

Warning: the text below contains desciptions of torture

The evacuation from Kabul in 2021

Refugees Welcome fought for many years for the Afghan interpreters who had worked for the Danish forces. During the dramatic evacuation from Kabul in August 2021, several of them succeeded in getting themselves and their families onboard flights to Denmark, under extreme circumstances. We were in contact with one of them during several days on an unstable WhatsApp connection. Finally, the Danish authorities recognized that he was in danger because he had helped us back in 2011, and ever since had feared being executed by the Taliban for that.

The special law for the 900 evacuated Afghans and their eight-month stay in Danish asylum centers became one of the dark chapters in Danish asylum history, despite the compassion with which Danish soldiers, journalists, politicians and ordinary citizens met them.

But after all, they were luckier than all the compatriots who did not manage to get on board the planes. The selection had been made in haste, and the criteria had changed underway. Information was lacking, and it was quite random who ended up in Denmark. The embassy had already been closed several weeks before. Many should have been included but were left behind.

After the evacuation, there were only very limited opportunities to get out, and only very few have subsequently been reunited with the evacuees. The Danish Parliament set a sharp cut-off date for the Special Act, and refused to discuss a subsequent application procedure, such as several other European countries as well as the USA and Canada established. Not even Afghans who had worked directly for Danish NGOs, companies or for the Danish state could subsequently get help to come here.

Asylum for all women and girls

Barely half a year after the Taliban took power, the Refugee Appeals Board made a historic decision and announced that all Afghan women and girls were entitled to asylum under the Refugee Convention, solely because of their gender. Denmark was the first western country after Sweden to do so – and the news led to a massive amount of emails to Refugees Welcome from women in Afghanistan and their family members living there.

There was just one problem: they had to set foot on Danish soil. Afghanistan is in country group 5 if you apply for a visa to Denmark, which in practice means impossible to obtain. In addition, the Taliban has gradually stopped issuing passports, and both Pakistan and Iran refuse to allow Afghans to enter. At the same time, it has become a struggle to survive every day, as women and the other persecuted cannot work and often have to hide. In Refugees Welcome, we have to send a standard email stating that we can do nothing in response to all the poignant emails we receive. You can read three of them below.

Denmark turns its back

In the first eight months of 2023, Denmark has only granted asylum to 900 people in total, approximately one third of whom already had another kind of residence permit, most of them from Syria. Since 2016, very few asylum seekers have come to the Danish borders, while the number has risen in recent years in the rest of Europe. Denmark has taken in a total of 235 quota refugees over the past seven years – all of them selected for being single mothers and particularly vulnerable, mostly from DRC. Thus, we are in no way overrun by Afghan refugees.

If Denmark wanted to take on its responsibility after 10 years of efforts in Afghanistan and a realization that ALL women and girls are at great risk today, the state should open up an online application program for Afghans who have a connection to Denmark or are in a special risk situation due to their work for human rights and democracy, as well as particularly vulnerable persons. Germany established such a program in October 2022, having already received 44,000 Afghans during the evacuation period, and despite the country having the highest number of asylum seekers in the EU. Selected NGOs and organizations can apply and recommend people, and after approval they can enter Germany legally, where they have a three-year residence permit initially.

The Danish state recognizes Afghan women's right to asylum but does everything to deny them access to it. The government prefers helping people in their neighbouring areas – but millions of Afghan refugees were already struggling to survive in Pakistan and Iran, where they have no rights, even before the Taliban seized power. We have we have even left people who stood on the front line and cooperated with us throughout 10 years of efforts at the will of the terrorists that we were so busy fighting. Adding to this, a collapsed economy and natural disasters such as the recent earthquake add to the humanitarian catastrophy in the country.

Photo above: ANaR. Main photo for the article: Manilla Ghafuri.

Three e-mails received between December 2022 and July 2023, edited and made anonymous:

From a woman in Afghanistan:

"I worked as a deputy judge at a court for more than seven years, and alongside that I was the leader of a group of civil activists, in which we all worked for the purpose of defending women’s rights, women’s empowerment and education and also keep women's position constant at the court.

In addition to all this, my husband and I participated in many demonstrations that were held to raise the voice of Afghan women, which caused me to be threatened many times – the only and main reason for all these threats was actually being a woman. Because our society is a patriarchal society and most people are intellectually extreme. And according to them, women do not have the right to work in offices, because they believe it’s forbidden in Islam.

During the years that I worked as a deputy judge, I received numerous threats, the threats came in phone calls, verbal warnings and warning letters by the Taliban. At first, the threats came through phone calls, for example in 2019 I received a call where they stated: “if I don’t leave my job and don’t stop my activities they will kill me and my whole family”. Later we received a letter in front of our house, saying “you should stop working at the court". They also addressed my husband that "you should inform your wife to stop her civil activities, if you don't leave your duties, we will kill your whole family”. I shared these threats with the security officials, but nothing came out of it, and we had to leave our residence and move to another place.

After the shocking and terrifying takeover of Kabul/Afghanistan by the Taliban, they removed all women from their duties. But we resumed our activities in the group that I had built to raise the voice of women and defend our rights and keep our position at court. We started our protests in front of the court’s door to regain our duties, but the Taliban threatened and warned us that if you do this again we will kill all of you. After that, we continued our activities at home and held a meeting once a week to defend our rights. In February 2022 I got a phone call where they angrily warned me “you are working to promote prostitution in the society, it is obligatory for us to kill you and your family this time”.

We are now changing our location from one place to another. We were investigated and searched twice by the Taliban, but luckily we had already moved to other places. Since then, we changed our residence area more than four times.

Another reason why we are facing a risk from the Taliban is; on the time that they took power in Afghanistan, all the Taliban prisoners have been released from jail, among them there are some prisoners whose cases we worked on during our duties at the court. Hence now they try to get revenge and have started searching for us.

In October 2022, my husband's car was stopped by a Taliban checkpoint and he was recognized by them. They took my husband to a detention centre and he was in the interrogation room for almost seven hours. After being released from there, he was in a bad mental condition, at night he woke up suddenly and screamed.

Because of all the threats, we are not able to live our normal lives, both mentally and physically. Our child is not able to continue her education. So, we are living in an uncertain future, this situation has made life very difficult for us.

Therefore, we respectfully request urgent help from your esteemed authority. By your help if my application is approved, our lives will be safe and our future will be bright.

From a man in Afghanistan:

I am writing to you as the founder of an online free university for Afghan women and a non-profit organization for human rights and culture, and assistant professor at a university in Afghanistan. Our private free educational institute has offered diplomas for more than 4500 female students in different fields. I am now facing a serious threat from the Taliban regime for supporting women's education and academic freedom, social activities and human rights.

The security situation in our country has deteriorated significantly in recent years, and the Taliban's influence has grown stronger. As a result, many of us who are working in academia, social activities, women and human rights and non-profit organizations are facing a critical situation where our activities are being threatened by extremist groups who do not believe in the human rights and humanity.

Since the Taliban took over the country in August 2021, they have banned women and girls from attending university and secondary school education, claiming that these subjects are against Islam and Afghan culture. They have also imposed strict restrictions on academic activities and curricula, censoring any critical or independent views.

I have been protesting against these unjust and oppressive measures, both publicly and privately. I have appeared on social media almost every day, writing out for the human rights, rights of women and girls to education and expressing my opposition to the Taliban's policies.

The Taliban have sent me a letter of threat, they have seriously threatened me and my family with death for defending human rights, defending women's rights and establishing a university, which is against their ideas. I have received many threats from the Taliban and their supporters. They have accused me of being a traitor, an infidel, a spy and an enemy of Islam. They have also arrested some of my colleagues and students who shared my views or supported me. I fear for my life and the lives of my family members.

Therefore, I am requesting your urgent help, protection and support. I am seeking asylum in a country where I hope to find safety and freedom. I am also seeking academic collaboration and institution, where I hope to continue my research and teaching activities and contribute to the advancement of knowledge and humanity.

Please consider my request with compassion and urgency. I appreciate your attention and response.

From an Afghan man in Pakistan:

I am an Afghan gay and LGBTQ activist and human rights defender ostracized by my family and society. I am in serious danger since the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan. I have been hiding for months, and I have now managed to come to Pakistan, but I am not safe here in any way.

In 2021, I went to Kabul airport to evacuate, but the Taliban shot at me. I was studying in one of the most prestigious universities in Afghanistan, but when the terrorists came to power, my freedom, work and education was taken from me.

One evening, I went out of the house to film and record a documentary video of the LGBTQ community when the Taliban came. They slapped me hard and asked, "What are you doing?” They took my phone from me. A Taliban demanded, “Open your phone!” I said, “I can't, because it's related to my personal and family issues.”

The Taliban hit me so hard that blood came out of my mouth and nose. He aimed his gun at me. He forced me to open my phone. They watched videos, some of which showed the brutality of the Taliban, then they logged into my WhatsApp and read all my messages with a British filmmaker who was making a documentary about LGBTQ rights violations. They found out that I am LGBTQ.

They blindfolded my eyes and taped my mouth shut. They put me in a car and I tried to open the car door to throw myself out to escape their torture and cruelty, when suddenly, something hit my neck and I lost consciousness. When I woke up, I was in a dark, dirty and very cold room. There was a camera in the room and the Taliban were watching me. I thought about how they would kill me. I remembered my uncle: the Taliban had broken his arm and legs and shot 100 bullets into his body. I also knew people whose finger nails had been removed. I used to ask myself if the Taliban ever did this to me, how could I bear this pain? And here I was – facing my own death.

The Taliban took me to the investigation room. They said that according to their information, I was an active LGBTQ spy and that I was promoting the LGBTQ community in Afghanistan with the help of foreigners. They told me I was hostile to the Islamic government, and that the punishment for this offense is death. But death by stoning would not be enough for me. He told me they would skin me alive and throw my body into acid. The torture continued. They soaked my whole body with water and then they gave me an electric shock.  The only thing they didn’t do was rape me.

My father went to the Taliban base, asking for his missing son. After seven days, they released me to my father. He had paid a ransom by selling his car. Once released, my brother, who is a doctor, treated me at home. He didn't dare to take me to the hospital.

Once I recovered from my many injuries, my family reluctantly asked me to get out of the house. They did not want the Taliban to come back and kill them all because of me. I fled to Pakistan. After leaving my family’s home, the Taliban did indeed return to my family’s home and tortured my brother for helping me.

I now live in a room in a hostel, and I am in constant fear of deportation back to Afghanistan or being arrested by the police. Pakistan is NOT a safe place for LGBTQ Afghans.

Please cooperate with me regarding my asylum and accommodation case, please ask for help on my behalf to anyone who can help.

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