Young Afghans based in the UK are struggling to help their families back home

‘I’ve never felt the threat of Taliban as much as I do now’

Shokryah’s cousin is on the run in Afghanistan and she has no idea where he is. He’s stopped communicating with her, or anyone else for that matter, as he’s desperately worried that this might reveal his location to the Taliban who want him dead.

Shokryah’s cousin worked for the Afghan government and with the UK army as an interpreter. It’s thought that interpreters and anyone associated with the old Afghan regime could face execution at the hands of the Taliban.

Thousands of miles away, King’s College London graduate Shokryah feels helpless. She’s been constantly emailing embassies and calling numbers, desperately trying to get help for her cousin and other family members in Afghanistan. So far, she hasn’t received a single reply. “It’s the nightmare you can’t wake up from,” Shokryah told The Tab.

Following the withdrawal of US and NATO forces, the Taliban have taken over the country, capturing the capital city of Kabul last week. And there are many young Afghans living here in the UK who feel unable to help their family back home. The Tab spoke to two young people who have found themselves in this situation.

‘People were pretty much unprepared’

Like Shokryah, Warwick graduate Parwiz has lots of family in Afghanistan. Parwiz is in daily contact with his uncle in Kabul where the banks and shops are shut. The airport is also closed, as are the borders. “They don’t know what to do. They don’t know what’s happening,” Parwiz said. “Nobody expected Afghanistan to collapse that quickly. People were pretty much unprepared.”

His family are hoping to leave the country, but now feel like that’s a pipe dream. This feeling of sheer helplessness is something that resonates clearly with Shokryah’s own relatives.

‘Women have literally not gone outside since the Taliban has taken over’

Shokryah has aunties, uncles and cousins in Kabul and is acutely aware that the recent shift in power is going to hit her female family members the worst. “The women are all at home,” Shokryah told The Tab. “What can they do? They’re terrified. Scared. They’ve locked themselves in the house so they won’t be killed, beheaded, stoned. They have literally not gone outside since the Taliban has taken over.”

When the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in the late 90s, the group imposed a strict version of Islam that introduced punishments like stoning, amputations and the death penalty. They also prevented women from working and from being educated.

Parwiz has a close female friend in Kabul. He recalls a conversation he had with her recently. “She was telling me that she had a dream to become a bigger person, an influencer in society. She wanted to help the women in her community not have to face the same things faced by other women.

“But now she’s forgotten about all her dreams. She just wants peace. It’s crazy how dramatically things change from being hopeful to having no hope in the space of two weeks,” Parwiz told The Tab.

‘My village was ruled by the government in the day and the Taliban at night’

Both Shokryah and Parwiz’s families are Hazaras – a minority ethnic group in Afghanistan who have traditionally faced persecution at the hands of the Taliban. This is something that’s all too familiar to Parwiz.

Parwiz was born in Afghanistan, leaving to go to Pakistan in 2006 before returning again in 2011 and eventually settling in the UK where he now has British citizenship. His early memories of Afghanistan offer a glimpse into what life could be like for Hazaras now the Taliban have regained power.

“A lot of people from my ethnic group are worried because last time the Taliban occupied the country, they did a lot of bad stuff, a lot of atrocities against the ethnic minorities,” Parwiz said.

As well as being Hazara, Parwiz’s father worked for the World Health Organisation and the Afghan government, becoming a natural enemy of the Taliban for this reason.

“In the village I lived in, the Taliban used to come around and look for my dad,” Parwiz said. “My village was ruled by the government in the day and the Taliban at night.”

When this happened, Parwiz’s grandmother used to tell him to run to the mountains where he’d stay all night until someone came to tell them the Taliban had gone. Luckily, Parwiz’s father managed to flee to the UK in 2001.

‘I’ve never felt the threat of Taliban as much as I do now’

When Parwiz returned to Afghanistan in 2011, it was a different country. It was a country of hope. A lot of progress was being made on women’s rights and the persecution of ethic minorities had lessened.

“The ethnic minorities who were threatened by the Taliban before then had the opportunity to educate themselves and take part in society because there was no more Taliban to stop them,” Parwiz said.

Shokryah left Afghanistan for the UK a bit earlier, in 2008. Before that, she lived in rural parts of Afghanistan where the Taliban were rarely found. “I’ve never felt the threat of Taliban as much as I do now,”she told The Tab.

Back in the UK, Shokryah and Parwiz now run an organisation called Afghan Youth Association. For years,  they’ve tirelessly worked to help put women through university education in Afghanistan, to heal rifts between communities and to support young Afghans who dream of a better life. Now they’re desperately trying to help their own families, but both of them feel as if this may be a futile task.

“There’s nothing we can do, nobody to go to,” Shokryah told The Tab.

For a full list of resources detailing how you can support those in Afghanistan, please follow this link.

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