Vienna – Freshta, an artist and mother of two young children, has gone into hiding. “John,” a former interpreter, moves constantly because he says the Taliban is going house to house looking for people like him.
These are just two of the desperate voices coming out of Afghanistan in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal.
As the last U.S. soldiers left after the 20-year-long American deployment there, Afghans are making desperate appeals to the West not to forget those left behind, fearing for their lives from the Taliban.
Freshta — whose name has been changed for security reasons — is one of those who was not able to join the evacuations organized by foreign countries via Kabul airport.
Two days before an attack at Kabul airport killed more than 100 people, the 33-year-old artist and painter had tried to get on a flight organized by France.
But after a long wait with her five-month-old baby and five-year-old daughter, “stressed” by the chaos around the airport and frightened by shots fired by Taliban soldiers, she had to turn back.
‘Listen to our voice’
Now Freshta is in hiding at home in Kabul, in despair at the turn of events.
“In 20 years, we tried a lot to make our country to be a nation, to progress,” she said by phone.
“Our message: please think about those innocent people who don’t have any way out of Afghanistan,” she says.
Freshta calls on the outside world “not to be silent about our situation.”
Hers is one of a number of cases being supported by a coalition of artists and cultural figures based in France.
If other countries “recognize the Taliban regime our situation in the future will get worse. They should listen to our voice,” she says.
Now she is simply “waiting” to see what the future holds while asking relatives to shop for her and limiting her movements to a bare minimum.
Even then she makes sure she is fully veiled.
“It’s dangerous for me because I did a lot as an artist,” she says.
The Taliban’s attempt to reassure Afghans opposed to their ideology cuts no ice with Freshta.
“We cannot trust the Taliban,” she insists.
“Their actions and speech are totally different.”
The often tumultuous situation in Afghanistan over the past 20 years is reflected in her vivid paintings.
Until now however she never wanted to leave, instead busying herself with exhibitions and other projects.
But faced with a return to Taliban rule, she decided to try to leave for India — a plan thwarted by the rapid fall of the city.
‘Step up on your promise’
A former interpreter for NATO forces — who nicknamed him “John” — tells of his bitterness at being left behind.
He carried out much of his work for Romanian troops.
Bucharest has evacuated just five Afghans despite their long presence in the country, which counted 1,800 soldiers at its height.
Despite Taliban promises of a general amnesty, John said in a series of messages that the militants “are searching house to house or door to door looking for the interpreters.”
Unable to get to Kabul airport due to the chaos around the facility and the deadly attacks, John is trying to hold on to hope while frequently changing his location.
“Step up on your promise to your war allies, evacuate us from Afghanistan,” he pleads.
Meanwhile in Vienna, Sima Mirzai, a 26-year-old doctor of Afghan origin, is also trying to stir consciences on behalf of those left in her homeland.
She herself has been in Austria since the age of 6.
Her family, from the long-persecuted Shia Muslim Hazara minority, fled the Taliban during their last period in power in the 1990s.
Now she finds herself trying to help two female cousins to escape Kabul as the Taliban return.
“They are hiding and are in great danger. The Taliban are looking for them, they found their information at the office of the U.S. NGOs where they were working,” she said at a Viennese cafe.
She condemns the “inhumane and shameful” attitude of Austria’s politicians, who have insisted the country will not take any more Afghan refugees.
There are currently 40,000 Afghan refugees in Austria, the biggest Afghan community per head of population in the EU.
The recent high-profile alleged murder of a 13-year-old girl by a group of Afghan asylum-seekers has inflamed public debate on the issue and Sima feels the whole community is being unfairly tarred with the same brush.
“Most of them are well integrated and not criminals. I think that if they welcome refugees, it will be an enrichment for society,” says the newly qualified child psychiatrist.
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