Worried but helpless: Afghan refugees watch from afar the situation unfolding in their homeland

On August 15th, the Taliban entered Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan. After weeks of successfully gaining control over most of the country, they were finally able to take power when President Ashraf Ghani announced his resignation and left the country. Since then, Afghanistan has been in the news every day. And, from the distance of Nea Kavala camp, Shakiba and Hossein feel that checking their social media is “really hard these days”. 

Shakiba had to leave Afghanistan when she was four. Her mother told her that it was not safe anymore, “not only in our city, Baghlan, but in most parts of the country”, she explains. The family moved to Kazakhstan and then to Greece, where they have been living for two years. She is almost 19 now, and she barely remembers her homeland. Hossein doesn’t have a single memory of Afghanistan. His family is from Daikondi province, but he was born in Iran. After living for a while in Turkey, they moved to Greece last year. He is 20 now and he hasn’t seen Afghanistan yet. “But I’m always looking for the news because it’s my country and I really care about it”, he says. He also regularly speaks with his cousin, who keeps him updated on what is happening with the rest of the family.

As a young person I didn’t see my country… But I feel really sad these days because it’s my people who are suffering.

Hossein, 20

Despite having different stories, both of them are sharing a similar experience. They are young and deal with the physical – but also psychological – distance from their homeland. “As a young person I didn’t see my country, so I cannot feel like the people in Afghanistan right now”, Hossein explains. “But at the same time, I feel really sad because it’s my people who are suffering”. For Shakiba, the situation is “too difficult despite not being there”. “Imagine how it can be for the people living there”, she adds.

This feeling is probably shared by a huge amount of people outside Afghanistan. Specifically, among the 2.6 million registered refugees, according to Amnesty International. As the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) explains, Afghan refugees constitute one of the largest protracted refugee situations in the world and one of the biggest displacement crises in modern history. Indeed, for three decades until the Syrian war, Afghanistan has been the country with the highest number of fleeing refugees.

More than 1,300 people are living in Nea Kavala camp, 55.4% of which are from Afghanistan.

IOM’ numbers from May 2021

According to the International Organization for Migration’ (IOM) numbers from May 2021, more than 1,300 people are living in Nea Kavala camp, 55.4% of which are from Afghanistan. Open Cultural Center works with many Afghan refugees from Nea Kavala, and indeed both Shakiba and Hossein volunteer at OCC. When being asked about the mood these days in the camp, Hossein answers that “we are just sad because we cannot do anything for our country. We are just trying to follow the news, that’s all we can do, unfortunately”.

Women from the Women Space and the ECO Salon show their support for the Afghan people. / Photo: Open Cultural Center

“Uncertainty” is the word that describes the new situation for the Afghan people – both living in the country and outside of it –, at least for the moment. On the one hand, the Taliban declared an amnesty for all public officials, and promised respect for women’s rights and freedom of the press. On the other hand, the price of the burqa has increased five times, they are blocking Afghan people from reaching Kabul’s airport, and pictures of desperate citizens trying to flee the country have gone viral online. 

In any case, both Shakiba and Hossein don’t hesitate when saying that they don’t trust the Taliban. Shakiba thinks that “it’s the first days that they are in government, so they say things to make the people accept them. But after that, they are probably going to change laws”. And Hossein agrees. “They are showing kindness”, he says, “but I think that’s strategic and that they are waiting for the world to accept their government”. He finally concludes that “no one can trust the Taliban regarding human rights, as the experience of history tells us”.