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Refugee Diary: The Last Morning In Kabul

It has been difficult to adapt to a new society and culture while carrying the weight of my past. As an Afghan woman and a refugee, living away from home and fighting for my rights has been particularly challenging. It has required immense resilience and determination.

Unending Misery: Afghans at the Kabul Airport after the Taliban took over the country in 2021
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Last Morning in Kabul

I never planned to settle in Italy. But when you’re from a war-torn country, you don’t have an option; you do not know what the future holds for you. That day still haunts me when I left home for work and never returned. That morning was the last morning I was at home.

Most women in my family are educated and we needed to work to fend for ourselves. But under the Taliban reg­ime, it is a far-fetched dream. After com­ple­ting my higher studies in India in 2019, I returned to Kabul with much hope—a hope to work in my country, which was actually witnessing progressive growth in terms of women’s and human rights. I was working for the BBC. Although there was unrest, I was able to build a career. But only until 2021. After the Taliban took over Afghanistan, it was difficult for women to venture out. Their regime has always been a slap on the face of women’s rights.

I don’t remember the date. That morning, I left for work. Chaos had engulfed the capital city. Around noon, I received a call from my neighbours, who informed me that the Talibs had reached our locality and were entering every house to inquire about the whereabouts of family members, especially women. My nei­g­hbours suggested that I should not come back because the forces had taken over my home. My heart broke. I did not return, fearing the threat to my life, but I was worried for my family.

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Women in Afghanistan have been disproportionately affected by the constant war Photo: Getty Images

Fleeing Kabul, Reaching Rome

From my office, I went to central Kabul, which was yet to be taken over by the Taliban forces. I had to hide my identity by putting my press card underneath my socks. I stayed with my relatives and started applying for visas to several countries, so we could be evacuated as soon as possible. It took time. However, I must admit that working with the BBC made my evacuation process less tedious. While they agreed to try evacuating us to the United Kingdom, they refused to take my family—my father, sister and brother-in-law.

In Kabul, my sister worked with the Italian Embassy and hence the two of us obtained our visas to Italy. On August 21, we reached Kabul Airport with very few belongings. The situation there was terrifying. Four women died in front of my eyes in firing and a stampede. We had to wait for 10 hours to enter the airport. The flight was via Pakistan and Kuwait. We landed in Rome on August 23.

New Home, New Challenges

My sister was nine months pregnant then. By the time we reached Rome, she had developed severe complications. I felt helpless—a new country, a different culture; I was a refugee and all alone. After several requests, the authorities agreed to relocate my father and brother-in-law as it was an emergency situation.

Days passed and the situation gradually improved. I landed myself a scholarship to study international corporation. My sister got a job as a social media moderator with an international organisation. But it was tough mentally and emotionally. I had to undergo several therapy sessions to deal with the post-traumatic situation of fleeing a war-torn country. Most refugees across the world are dealing with this.

Living in Rome has its own challenges. Most places would reject me as I don’t speak their language. I am trying to master Italian so that I can get a job soon.

Fighting for Rights

It has been difficult to adapt to a new society and culture while carrying the weight of my past. As an Afghan woman and a refugee, living away from home and fighting for my rights has been particularly challenging. It has required immense resilience and determination. Despite the emotional toll, I am committed to fighting for the rights of Afghan women.

The war in Afghanistan has been a complex one involving various powerful groups having differing agendas. While there have been symb­olic acknowledgements of women’s rights, the situation on the ground has failed to match the rhetoric. Afghan women have come a long way in the past 20 years. At every peace talk they pleaded that the regime be accommodative of their rights, but every request fell on deaf ears. Afghan women have been disproportionately affected by the constant war. While some efforts have been made to empower women, the outcomes have been inconsistent.

(As told to Shreya Basak)

Maryam Barak  is a 27-year-old Afghan refugee currently a student in Italy

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