Tuesday, June 28

‘I Came In Sandals’: Meet Afghan Runaways Starting A New Life In Europe


Arriving with stories of fear, shock and dramatic escapes, thousands of Afghan refugees have been flown to Europe in recent days.

While some are on their way to the US or elsewhere, many of the 181 who landed in Lithuania hope to build a new life in the country.

Many of them served as interpreters for the 5,000 Lithuanian soldiers who served in Afghanistan over the past two decades.

Ghulamuddin: ‘I came here only with my sandals’

Ghulamuddin Sadiqi, a former interpreter for Lithuanian troops in Afghanistan, says he arrived in Lithuania in sandals.

“Many of us came here with very little and therefore we expect help from [the] Lithuanian government, “he said.

“I came here with just one pair of shoes, the sandals you see me wearing now.”

Ghulamuddin, who had previously only traveled to India and Pakistan, brought his wife and five children, ages 3, 5, 7, 10 and 17.

The seven sleep in a single room that until now was used by students of a vocational school.

“We had only a few minutes to get out of our home in Afghanistan,” he said.

“It was 10 pm when I received a phone call from the Lithuanian Special Armed Forces deployed at Kabul airport and they asked me to come as soon as possible.

“With the Taliban advancing on the capital, we had to go into hiding. We are happy to be safe now. We really can’t complain about anything here,” he said.

Mustafa: ‘I just hope they don’t suffer’

“My whole world has collapsed after the Taliban captured the country and Kabul,” Mustafa Babakarhail, a former interpreter for the Lithuanian army, told Euronews. “We knew it was moving forward, but perhaps few anticipated such a rapid collapse.”

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Mustafa took his wife and two children to Lithuania, but he fears for other family members and relatives he left behind. “Now I know what will happen to them,” he said. “I can only hope they don’t suffer.”

The 31-year-old said his life could have been in “grave danger” if he had stayed in Afghanistan, due to his five-year stint as an interpreter for the NATO-led coalition. Besides English, he can also speak Pashto and some Urdu.

When asked to share his impression of the early days in Raseiniai, Mustafa began to talk enthusiastically about the weather.

“I knew it’s cold in Lithuania,” Mustafa said. “But now we have the last days of August and it is already quite cold. I have been told that it is cold in winter. Unfortunately, many of us came here dressed very lightly. I am especially concerned for our children, but, like many other Afghans, I trust [the] help from Lithuania, the United Nations and the European Union. “Mustafa Babakarhail said.

Mustafa, referring to the current influx of migrants from Lithuania, argued that Afghans flown through Lithuania are different from those arriving through Belarus.

“Our case is completely different,” he said. “Unlike the others, we did not come here illegally. If there hadn’t been a threat to our lives, we would have stayed in our own country. His government invited us to recognize what we did for the Lithuanian troops ”.

He added that Afghanistan had made great progress in the past 20 years under the NATO-led coalition, but admitted his surprise at the unexpected collapse of the Afghan government.

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Said: ‘I’m surprised there’s so little resistance’

Said Omar Saidi, another former interpreter for the Lithuanian troops in Afghanistan, arrived in Lithuania with his four children, ages 6.9, 12 and 15.

But, like Mustafa, he is very concerned about those he left behind.

“My father worked for seven years as a local guard commander for the Lithuanian troops. One of my brothers who stayed in Afghanistan has also worked as a guard for the coalition troops. I am very concerned for them, as the Taliban are now looking for those who worked for the coalition troops. “

Said told Euronews that his family’s only option was to hide.

When asked why they couldn’t be evacuated with him, he added: “Well, the whole evacuation happened very quickly and the priority was to evacuate the interpreters and their wives and children first.”

He said he still talks to his father and brother via WhatsApp, but fears that the internet connection will drop with the Taliban in power.

“Like many Afghans, I am shocked by their ability to take over the entire country so quickly and without any resistance,” he said.

Said expressed his gratitude to the Lithuanian government and that he had already submitted his asylum application.

“Due to the coronavirus pandemic we are in quarantine for two weeks, I cannot complain about the conditions, but certainly it would be good to have some certainty afterwards,” he said. “My profession is as a psychologist, so it will be difficult to get a job in the field here.”

Haji: ‘I heard what sounded like gunshots when the plane took off’

Haji Akbar Sultani’s story is quite different from that of his fellow Afghans on the evacuation flight to Lithuania.

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As a doctoral student at Vilnius Gediminas Technical University (VGTU), he had gone home on vacation at the end of July to Mazar-i-Sharif, his hometown in northern Afghanistan.

But with the Taliban forces rapidly closing in, he was forced to flee the city.

“In fact, the Taliban were faster: my wife and I had to flee the city with the Taliban inside. I rented a car to drive to Kabul airport.

“The Taliban stopped us several times on the way. Each time I would tell them that my wife was very ill, that she could not receive proper treatment in Mazar-i-Sharif, and that we had to go to Kabul to see the doctors. “

She said she was “very lucky”: If the Taliban had searched her purse in the trunk of her car, they would have found her passport with a European Union visa.

“That would have been the end,” he said convinced.

But, believing their made-up story, the Taliban fighters let them pass without exhaustive control.

He says he is “very” grateful to the VGTU chiefs, who contacted Lithuanian troops at Kabul airport to ask them to remove their student from the country.

In his words, the departure from the Kabul airport was very “very hard”

“The plane took off abruptly and abruptly. With the plane still on the runway, I heard what sounded like a machine gun. It was very scary, ”he recalled.


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