Exactly one year ago, the Taliban took power in Afghanistan. Afghans who have fled to the Netherlands tell how they have been since then. One from their own house that has just been assigned, the other from the shelter.
A year ago, Javid Mehri (30) saw his wife Huma and son Ali barely able to breathe in the crowds desperately trying to enter Kabul airport. He made a decision: they would turn around. Javid didn’t know what it would mean for his life. And whether he and his family would ever reach the safety of Holland.
Now he talks from a terraced house in Eemnes, where the family has recently moved, about the day the Taliban took power. No one expected the international community to abandon Kabul. Yet it happened. After all, when Javid went to work at the embassy, all the Dutch had flown. At home, he and his wife cried.
They had a good life in a nice apartment in Kabul. Javid’s family interacted freely with the women in their family. His wife ran a salon for brides and grooms, and also worked as a singer and presenter. “She can sing beautifully.” Before he started working in the embassy kitchen, Javid had a job with a large hotel chain.
That life ended when the Taliban took power. Javid left it for good as he entered the muddy river bed, across, over the fence beyond. Javid’s mother, who is still in Aghanistan, now has to cross the street in a veil. He misses her. But she always tells him not to look back. “My country is now Holland, she tells me.”
And what a country it is, sighs Javid. “Paradise, I can say that from the bottom of my heart. Holland is beautiful. Some don’t agree with me, I know, but nowhere can you be so free. If I grow my beard or walk around in Afghan clothes, no one looks at me. Style is not considered here, not gender. In Afghanistan, Javid and his wife thought it was best for their son to become a doctor or an engineer. Now they think that the 3-year-old must choose for himself later.
Elsewhere in the Netherlands, another Afghan father’s life looks very different. A year ago, Sabir also stood in a river among all the others who, like him, were fleeing the Taliban, who wanted to go to the airport. In the middle of the dirty water, he held up his passport to show that he could come along. He had already tried several times to reach the Dutch at the airport. He had feared that his wife and seven children would be crushed, that they would be trampled. Therefore he was turned around, he came no further. Now Sabir had decided: if it doesn’t work again, I won’t try again.
But this time, Sabir, who as a former interpreter cannot use his real name in the newspaper because of his family’s safety in Afghanistan, had rightly said goodbye to his loved ones. He lifted his children, the baby, also his wife. They hadn’t slept in days. Now they got food, drink. They sought security, peace and quiet. But he has not been able to find the latter after a year in the shelter in Huis ter Heide. “We felt honored when we were welcomed in Holland with food and gifts for the children. Now I worry about their future.”
Four, five months
“When we arrived at this shelter, we were first told that we would be staying for ten days. Later, half a year was mentioned. We were shocked by it, but we set ourselves four or five months. Now, a year later, we are still in the same two rooms. My seven children sleep in the one opposite ours. They use the bathroom here, even though there is a door to the room next to us, there is now another family there. I have often asked if the children can’t sleep there. But nobody listens.”
In the shelter, he cannot be the father he would like to be, says Sabir. He wants to raise his children properly, set rules. But there are hundreds of other children who are raised according to different rules. “If they see others playing outside, I can’t keep them in one room.” His wife cries every night, including for their 22-year-old foster child, who was in Pakistan when the Taliban took power and is still there today. Sabir also fails to complete his family.
Sometimes it feels like he is not taken seriously because he comes from a poor country. Like when he had appendicitis and was sent home with paracetamol, and on another admission the operation was delayed. His appendix was torn in two places. “I almost died. We are grateful to the Netherlands that we could come here. The people are friendly. We have found security. But we have gained an insecurity which means that things are not going well psychologically. We need a home, so we can integrate, make friends in another culture, be a family starting a new life.”