Starting From Scratch: Afghan Migrants Settling Down in Europe After Fleeing Home

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Afghans gather near a gate of Kabul airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 22, 2021. (Xinhua/Rahmatullah Alizadah)
Afghans gather near a gate of Kabul airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 22, 2021. (Xinhua/Rahmatullah Alizadah)
Spining

Afghans who fled their home country after the Taliban (under UN sanctions for terrorism) seized power are now struggling with a new reality and starting their lives and careers from scratch, while still caring about their families and friends who were left behind.

Last year on August 15, the Taliban entered Kabul, prompting then-President Ashraf Ghani to resign and hastily leave the country. The United States then quickly withdrew from Afghanistan, while the nation plunged into greater economic disarray with food shortages that pushed it to the brink of a humanitarian crisis.

SUDDENLY YOU LEAVE EVERYTHING

Before the collapse of the Afghan government, Sabur Shah Dawod Zai served as an adviser to a deputy minister of interior affairs in Afghanistan. He was also a supervisor at the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan. Dawod Zai of the Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan recalled that the country was developing very well.

“Starting a new life for me is also really hard, when I left Afghanistan back in August 2021, I had only $200 in my pocket with a few biscuits and a bottle of water,” he told Sputnik, adding that he was evacuated by the Polish armed forces.

He noted it is really hard to start your life and career in a new place.

“It’s really hard when you spent your entire life building yourself, making contacts, being one step far from my dream job and position, and suddenly you leave everything and start from scratch where your experience has no value, where your political careers have no value, where your degree has no value … So life is hard but we are surviving and will be back soon and will work for our country and its people,” he said.

Relocating to Europe was not difficult for Dawod Zai in terms of culture, as he used to travel there for many international peace and youth conferences.

“But we have some Afghan people who didn’t even travel out of Afghanistan; for them it was really hard,” he admitted.

Dawod Zai, who now lives in Poland, said he is trying to cope with emotions when he thinks about his family settling in a new place.

“I never saw my family in this situation – living in a third country with no government support, no personal income; leaving a big villa; and living in a small rented apartment; leaving a luxury life and living like a low income family. My father was a businessman and had a good income but now he lives with zero income and left everything in Afghanistan,” he explained.

When asked whether he is following the situation in his home country, he replied that the situation is really bad.

“Daily or weekly I hear about my friends who are in Afghanistan being beaten or killed,” he said.

He also communicates with other Afghans who fled the country. Most of them have an accommodation, job, and had families relocated. Some of them now live in France, Germany and other European countries.

IT’S A CHALLENGE MAINLY FOR WOMEN

Nilofar Ayoubi, a women’s rights advocate, was one of thousands of women who managed to build a prosperous life in the country before the Taliban returned to power. Being a defender of women’s rights and a journalist, she was also a co-founder of AGAT (Afghan Women’s Animation Team), a leader of the Afghan Women’s Political Participation Network and owner of a fashion showroom in Kabul where three of her own brands were showcased.

August 15, when the Taliban returned to Kabul, was one of the darkest days in Ayoubi’s life. Ultimately, she managed to flee to Poland, where she has now been living for a year. Afghans who fled the country created an Afghan secretariat, which she is now responsible for. She is also managing the Shelter foundation (Foundacia Humanosh) which helps Afghan refugees in Warsaw.

“The only major problem or obstacle for me is the language which I am trying hard to learn. We were legalized just 3 and a half months after our arrival and we could travel and do everything legally with my 3-year residency,” she told Sputnik.

Ayoubi said she adapted to her new life easily, yet many Afghans still have problems adapting.

“Specially the women and girls who wear Hijab and are from conservative families. It’s completely opposite of what they had known before,” she said.

A year on, Ayoubi feels like the world is turning a blind eye to what is going in Afghanistan.

“The situation in my country is becoming worse each passing day but it seems like the world is completely OK with it now and has already moved on,” she said.

In August last year, Ayoubi managed to drive the girls who worked for her to safety. After August 15, she organized several protests in Kabul with the Afghan women’s political participation network, while also actively trying to get as many women activists out of the country as possible. She has managed to help a group of 35 people out to safety.

“I do have contact with my mother and sometimes with some relatives and friends. And the girls who worked for me. The situation is as bad as we can imagine but I am proud to say that my girls are not sitting quite and they are fighting for their rights. I see them among the protesters which makes me feel proud,” she said.

Born in 1993, Ayoubi remembers the days of the Taliban rule in the 1990s. Her father was a teacher at Shir Khan High School in Kunduz province and preferred to stay away from politics. Ayoubi remembers continual fights and people fleeing the Taliban’s wrath. She stopped wearing boy’s clothes — a trick that helped her go out freely — when she turned 13. Back then, in 2006, the United States was already in Afghanistan and the country was not run by the Taliban.

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