A FAMILY, KABUL
I’m writing this letter from Kabul. I am the head of a family of eight: myself, my wife, my five daughters, and my son. My daughters have become teenage prisoners.
From a reader in Afghanistan
I wish good health to those who are reading this letter now and I hope they are healthy and have a happy life with their family.
I am ██████████ and I’m writing this letter from Kabul. I am the head of a family of eight: myself, my wife, my five daughters, and my son.
I worked hard for many years so that my children could have a good life. To study. Achieve their dreams. Be a useful person in the community and serve their people.
My children must study so that they can be useful to society in the future. I have always supported them in this.
I worked in the health department for many years. I also worked for seven years for the French NGO ███████ as a field trainer and helped them successfully to complete their projects.
My wife worked as a lawyer in Afghanistan, helping to support vulnerable women and children.
My 24-year-old daughter ███████, a law and political science graduate, dreamed of earning a master’s degree in this field from a developed country and becoming a lawyer, like her mother, who defended women’s and children’s rights.
My son ███████ is 22 years old and a computer science student. He is a competent and alert boy and also a hardworking boy. He wished to continue his studies in the field of computer technology and achieve his dreams.
███████, my 16-year-old daughter, is a schoolgirl who wished to study journalism in the future to make her voice heard around the world.
My daughters are teenage prisoners. ███████, 11, and ███████, 5, are my little girls.
With the arrival of the Taliban and the takeover of Afghanistan by this terrorist group, all the goals and aspirations of my family have been destroyed. The Taliban are looking for people who have worked with international organizations. They do not respect the rights of women and children. They are looking for women activists in civil society, like my wife and daughter.
After the fall of Afghanistan, I repeatedly emailed the French government and the French embassy in Kabul, asking them to save our lives and bring my family to France, but I did not receive a reply.
I am currently in Kabul with my family, and our lives are in danger. We are in a bad situation and I ask those who can help us to save my family. My children need to move to a safe place to be able to study and achieve their goals in life.
Please help us in these difficult days. We desperately need your assistance to be able to move out of Afghanistan.
From his daughter, also in Afghanistan
I am a young Afghan woman. My name is ███████ I began school at the age of six, and after twelve years of education, I graduated from ███████ High School in Kabul. From childhood, one of my dreams was to become a just and competent lawyer who defended the rights of my people, the rights of children, and women.
Later, I enrolled as a university student. After four years of studying law and political science, I received an invitation to apply to graduate school. After graduating in law, I wanted to get a master’s degree to reach the highest level in my field, but with the arrival of the Taliban, our whole social order has collapsed, and all my dreams and aspirations have been reduced to rubble.
My parents have bitter memories of the first period of Taliban rule. The Taliban are like wild animals. They do not respect the status of women and girls; they despise women, and look at girls and women with evil eyes and anger.
My mother worked as a lawyer in Afghanistan, but with the arrival of the Taliban, all the prisoners were released and they are seeking revenge on the lawyers and judges. My father worked with the French for many years. Our lives are in danger.
Now, instead of wishing to study and serve, my wish is to flee Afghanistan and escape from this horror and oppression. I want to go to a safe place to save our lives and our families so that we can have a calm life and continue our education and lives again.
These days are very difficult for us and we are in a bad economic situation. We are facing an unknown destiny. My family and I are hiding in a corner of Kabul, and fear and apprehension are visible on all of our faces.
I hope that in these difficult days, you won’t abandon me and my family and you’ll help us to move to a safe place.
From Claire, your editor in Paris
After weeks of frantic searching, we have found an organization that says they can evacuate this family to Pakistan. Too Young to Wed, or TYTW for short,is the only group that has responded to our entreaties. TYTW facilitated this evacuation, so we know they can be trusted:
In August 2021, TYTW began an emergency initiative to work to arrange the safe evacuation of 200 high-risk female Afghan activists, journalists, and their families, taking care to keep them together as much as possible during the arduous asylum process. Among the individuals in the beneficiary group are six infants, twelve toddlers, schoolgirls, translators, television reporters, humanitarian aid workers, and an author who has written several books on Taliban rule and its repercussions for women’s rights. One advocate was beaten by the Taliban while pregnant with twin boys during Taliban rule, resulting in the stillbirth of both babies.
But TYTW doesn’t have enough money to provide for them even for a day in Pakistan. They will arrive without a place to stay, food to eat, or any cash for emergencies. All TYTW can do is arrange their visas and get them on the flight.
So I’ve started a GoFundMe page for them. I hope you’ll all consider contributing to it.
There is a terrible aspect to this story. One of their daughters doesn’t have a passport. There is now no one in Afghanistan to issue passports. TYTW can’t fly her out without one.
They’ve been debating for days whether to leave this daughter with her grandmother in the hope that she’ll be able to join them later. They’ve considered every other option—perhaps the whole family should stay with her; perhaps the son should stay with her; perhaps only one parent should go. But they don’t know how long it will be until they get another chance to leave. None of them are safe in Afghanistan. The parents need their son with them in Pakistan because he’s the one who speaks English best.
It’s a horrible Sophie’s-Choice dilemma, and the family is agonized, as you would expect.
As if that isn’t painful enough, their son was a US visa lottery winner. But his visa wasn’t processed before the fall of Kabul. Here, Christina Maza writes about the infuriating fate of these applicants:
For around a year leading up to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the embassy in Kabul did not adjudicate diversity visas, lawyers say. Then the embassy closed its doors when the Afghan government fell, failing to provide a backup plan for the thousands of people waiting.
“We were desperate to have diversity-visa applicants put onto manifests for evacuation flights. The State Department ignored those requests entirely,” said Rafael Ureña, a lawyer representing the Afghan selectees.
“The State Department has enormous resources, hundreds of consular offices with thousands of consular officers. If they really wanted to, they could adjudicate all diversity visas,” Ureña added. “The State Department does have the ability to do this. They have not demonstrated the willingness.”
If the cases aren’t resolved by Thursday, the diversity-visa selectees risk losing the opportunity to emigrate. Many say their lives are at risk if they stay in Afghanistan, now under Taliban control.
The insane bureaucratic obstacles Western countries have erected to ensure desperate Afghans remain trapped are shameful. Just shameful. The more I’ve worked to try to get this family out, the more I suspect this is not just a matter of Kafkaesque bureaucracy but a deliberate effort to ensure these people die somewhere out of sight, where they won’t trouble anyone’s conscience.
The world, it seems, is no less cruel than it was when my grandparents fled the Nazis. I am only here, by the way, because a bureaucrat made a mistake,as this biography of my grandfather explains:
After France’s surrender to Germany and the establishment of the Vichy government, Berlinski determined to leave while he (and his wife) still could, and to head for America … assisted by a man named Varian Fry (“the American Schindler”), who had come voluntarily to France to facilitate the rescue and emigration of stranded European intellectuals.
As both a German native and a veteran French Legionnaire who had fought against Germany, Berlinski was technically ineligible for an exit visa, since the cooperating French authorities were required to hand over all such individuals to the Germans. His illegally “purchased” exit visa still required an approval stamp. He obtained that only because the French official did not realize that Lipsk, shown as his birthplace on his passport, was simply the Polish translation for Leipzig, and thus assumed incorrectly that Berlinski had been born in Poland rather than Germany.
There was still the problem, however, that Poland was occupied by Germany as well. Fry helped him invent a Russian identity, which finally qualified him for exit, since the Soviet Union was still technically neutral as a result of the infamous but soon-to-be-violated non-aggression pact. He left France and arrived in the United States only two weeks before the German invasion of the Soviet Union.
Lipsk, Leipzig. Their lives—and thus mine—hinged on that confusion. Two phonemes. Had the bureaucrat been more alert, you wouldn’t be reading this.