PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The first Haitians deported from a makeshift camp in Texas landed in their home country Sunday amid sweltering heat, anger and confusion, as Haitian officials beseeched the United States to stop the flights because the country is in crisis and cannot handle thousands of homeless deportees.
“We are here to say welcome, they can come back and stay in Haiti — but they are very agitated,” said the head of Haiti’s national migration office, Jean Negot Bonheur Delva. “They don’t accept the forced return.”
Mr. Bonheur Delva said the authorities expected that about 14,000 Haitians will be expelled from the United States over the coming three weeks.
An encampment of about that size has formed in the Texas border town of Del Rio in recent days as Haitian and other migrants crossed over the Rio Grande from Mexico. The Biden administration has said it is moving swiftly to deport them under a Trump-era pandemic order.
On Sunday alone, officials in Haiti were preparing for three flights of migrants to arrive in Port-au-Prince, the capital. After that, they expect six flights a day for three weeks, split between Port-au-Prince and the coastal city of Cap Haitien.
Beyond that, little was certain.
“The Haitian state is not really able to receive these deportees,” Mr. Bonheur Delva said.
The Haitian appeal for a suspension of deportations appeared likely to increase the pressure on the Biden administration, which is grappling with the highest level of border crossings in decades.
President Biden, who pledged a more humanitarian approach to immigration than his predecessor, has been taking tough measures to stop the influx, and the administration said this weekend that the Haitian deportations are consistent with that enforcement policy.
But the migrants are being sent back to a country still reeling from a series of overlapping crises, including the assassination of its president in July and an earthquake in August. Only once since 2014 has the United States deported more than 1,000 people to the country.
As the sun beat down Sunday in Port-au-Prince, more than 300 of the newly returned migrants milled close together around a white tent, looking dazed and exhausted as they waited to be processed — and despondent at finding themselves back at Square 1. Some held babies as toddlers ran around playing. Some of the children were crying.
Many said their only hope was to once again follow the long, arduous road of migration.
“I’m not going to stay in Haiti,” said Elène Jean-Baptiste, 28, who traveled with her 3-year-old son, Steshanley Sylvain, who was born in Chile and has a Chilean passport, and her husband, Stevenson Sylvain.
Like Ms. Jean-Baptiste, many had fled Haiti years ago, in the years after the country was devastated by an earlier earthquake, in 2010. Most had headed to South America, hoping to find jobs and rebuild a life in countries like Chile and Brazil.
Recently, facing economic turmoil and discrimination in South America and hearing that it might be easier to cross into the United States under the Biden administration, they decided to make the trek north.
From Mexico, they crossed the Rio Grande into the United States — only to find themselves detained and returned to a country that is mired in a deep political and humanitarian crisis.
In July, the Haitian president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated, setting off a battle for power. A month later, the impoverished southern peninsula was devastated by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake, and the Caribbean nation’s shaky government was ill-equipped to handle the aftermath.
According to a United Nations report released last week, 800,000 people have been affected by the quake. A month after it struck, 650,000 still need emergency humanitarian assistance.
Many of the migrants who stepped off the plane Sunday have little to return to.
Claire Bazille left home in 2015, and had a job cleaning office buildings in Chile’s capital, Santiago. It wasn’t the dream life she had left Haiti to find, but she got by, even sending money home to her mother each month.
When Ms. Bazille heard that it was possible to enter the United States under the Biden administration, she left everything behind and headed north, joining other Haitians along the way.
On Sunday, she was put on a plane and returned to where it had all begun for her.
Only now, Ms. Bazille’s family’s home in Les Cayes had been destroyed in the earthquake. Her mother and six siblings are living in the streets, she said, and she is alone with a small child, a backpack with all their belongings, and no prospect of a job.
“I don’t know how I will survive,” said Ms. Bazille, 35. “It was the worst decision I could have taken. This is where I ended up. This is not where I was going.”
At least a dozen of the migrants said they felt tricked by the United States. They said they had been told by uniformed officials that the flight they were getting on was bound for Florida. When they learned otherwise, some protested but were placed on board in handcuffs, they said.
“I didn’t want to come back,” said Kendy Louis, 34, who had been living in Chile but decided to head to the United States when construction work dried up. He was traveling with his wife and 2-year-old son, and was among those who were handcuffed during the flight, he said.
The Assassination of Haiti’s President
The director of migration and integration at the Haitian office of migration, Amelie Dormévil, said several of the returnees told her they had been cuffed by the wrists, ankles and waist during the flight.
After the first plane carrying the deportees landed, the first to climb out were parents with babies in their arms and toddlers by the hand. Other men and women followed with little luggage, save perhaps for a little food or some personal belongings.
Amid confusion and shouting, the Haitians were led for processing at the makeshift tent, which had been set up by the International Organization for Migration.
Some expressed dismay at finding themselves back in a place they had worked so hard to escape — and with so few resources to receive them.
“Do we have a country?” asked one woman. “They’ve killed the president. We don’t have a country. Look at the state of this country!”
Haitian officials gave them little cause to think otherwise.
Mr. Bonheur Delva said “ongoing security issues” made the prospect of resettling thousands of new arrivals hard to imagine. Haiti, he said, cannot provide adequate security or food for the returnees.
And then there is the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I am asking for a humanitarian moratorium,” Mr. Bonheur Delva said. “The situation is very difficult.”
After the earthquake in August, which killed more than 2,000 people, the Biden administration paused its deportations to Haiti. But it changed course last week when the rush of Haitian migrants crossed into Texas from the border state of Coahuila, Mexico, huddling under a bridge in Del Rio and further straining the United States’ overwhelmed migration system.
The deportations have left Haiti’s new government scrambling.
“Will we have all those logistics?” Mr. Bonheur Delva said. “Will we have enough to feed these people?”
On Sunday, after being processed, the migrants were given Styrofoam containers with a meal of rice and beans. The government planned to give them the equivalent of $100.
After that, said Mr. Bonheur Delva, it will be up to them to find their own way.
Natalie Kitroeff contributed reporting from Mexico City.
TORKHAM, Pakistan — The Taliban, thankfully, didn’t figure out Mohammad was a police officer.
Mohammad, 55, had worked for years in Laghman Province east of Kabul, where chasing militants was part of the job. Then the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan. They killed his boss. Mohammad figured he and his family were next.
“We left Afghanistan mainly to protect our lives,” said Mohammad, who insisted on being identified only by his first name to protect his extended family from reprisals. On Aug. 16, he, his wife and their five children reached Spin Boldak, a town on the Afghanistan side of the border, before crossing to Chaman on the Pakistan side. To get there, they navigated watchful Taliban and paid Pakistan security forces $900 in bribes.
“On the highway, Taliban fighters were stopping and searching travelers,” said Mohammad. “But, luckily, they did not recognize me because, maybe, I was a low-ranked cop.”
The Pakistan authorities are watching worriedly to see whether more refugees like Mohammad and his family come pouring over the border. The government is expecting as many as 700,000 at a potential cost of $2.2 billion as the authorities set up camps and ways to track and feed them.
the United Nations, though experts say hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants live there, too.
The migration issue has at times added tension along the border. Already, on Wednesday Pakistan’s military fired artillery rounds over the border, citing firing from Afghanistan that killed five soldiers — the latest in long-running hostilities as Pakistan forces target suspected insurgents hiding on the other side.
Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, Pakistan’s powerful intelligence chief, listed terrorism and refugees among Pakistan’s top concerns at a meeting with Taliban leaders in Kabul over the weekend, according to Fawad Chaudhry, the Pakistani information minister.
1,600-mile border fence in recent years.
At Torkham, the dusty border crossing about 140 miles east of Kabul, the Pakistani authorities appeared to be keeping the flow of refugees under strict control. Only small groups of people crossed the border, where only Pakistan citizens and Afghans with visas are allowed to cross. Hundreds of empty container trucks sat idle on the Pakistan side, evidence of a sharp drop in trade because of the war.
raided by law enforcement, with young men rounded up, detained or beaten en masse, rights groups say.
their origin story and their record as rulers.
Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the top leaders of the Taliban, men who have spent years on the run, in hiding, in jail and dodging American drones. Little is known about them or how they plan to govern, including whether they will be as tolerant as they claim to be. One spokesman told The Times that the group wanted to forget its past, but that there would be some restrictions.
“Harassment and exploitation on the part of law enforcement agencies is a product of underlying perceptions of Afghans as violent, dangerous and suspicious,” said Zoha Waseem, a sociology professor at the University of Warwick and an expert on policing. “Refugees are therefore viewed with suspicion and seen as an alleged threat to the security of the nation-state. This makes an entire community, including refugee children, at risk of state harassment.”
Human Rights Watch. The group warned that the move risked adding to a population of hundreds of thousands of people in Afghanistan rendered essentially homeless by poverty and conflict.
The Taliban’s vengeful ways add to the risks. While the country’s new leaders have tried to strike a moderate tone, reports of reprisals against former members of the security forces and other Taliban opponents have trickled out of the country.
“I have no plans to go back to the Taliban’s Afghanistan,” said Khan, once a journalist in Kabul. He wanted to be identified only by his surname to protect his wife and two children, who remain in the Afghan capital.
Anticipating a Taliban victory by October, Khan had planned to get passports for his wife and two children to move to Pakistan. Kabul’s sudden fall last month spoiled those plans.
“Taliban has a list of journalists who were critical of the movement in their reporting,” said Mr. Khan, who had a visa to enter Pakistan, “and I am sure I am among them.”
In Camp Jadeed, a makeshift home for Afghan refugees on Karachi’s outskirts, residents said they had no plans to go back despite the temporary nature of their surroundings.
“With Taliban’s recapturing, a new era of uncertainty and fear starts in Afghanistan,” said Jan Ali, an Afghan in his 60s who arrived in Pakistan in 1980 and makes a living selling secondhand carpets.
He has seen arrivals from decades of conflict. “But the only good thing, this time,” he said, “is that bloodshed was avoided to gain Kabul’s throne.”
Salman Masood contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.
MATAMOROS, Mexico — When the Supreme Court effectively revived a cornerstone of Trump-era migration policy late last month, it looked like a major defeat for President Biden.
After all, Mr. Biden had condemned the policy — which requires asylum seekers to wait in Mexico — as “inhumane” and suspended it on his first day in office, part of an aggressive push to dismantle former President Donald J. Trump’s harshest migration policies.
But among some Biden officials, the Supreme Court’s order was quietly greeted with something other than dismay, current and former officials said: It brought some measure of relief.
Before that ruling, Mr. Biden’s steps to begin loosening the reins on migration had been quickly followed by a surge of people heading north, overwhelming the southwest border of the United States. Apprehensions of migrants hit a two-decade high in July, a trend officials fear will continue into the fall.
to apply for asylum in the United States, but he also refused to immediately expel unaccompanied children and moved to freeze deportations.
violent attacks on migrants by law enforcement in those countries.
While the administration tried to change the welcoming tone it set early on, dispatching Vice President Kamala Harris to Guatemala to proclaim the border closed in June, migrants and smugglers say the encouraging signals sent at the outset of Mr. Biden’s term are all anyone remembers.
“‘We heard the news that the U.S. opened the borders,’” said Abraham Barberi, a pastor in the border city of Matamoros, recounting what migrants routinely tell him. So many came to town that Mr. Barberi turned his church into a migrant shelter soon after Mr. Biden came to office, as mothers and their toddlers started showing up at his door.
Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, which tracks migration data. But almost immediately, Mr. Barberi said, a gusher of new migrants showed up.
said in a Twitter post after the visit, adding, “This cruelty is not who we are.”
Norwegian Center for Global Analyses, a group that provides intelligence information to agencies of the global organization. It was shared internally at the United Nations and seen by The New York Times.
Members of the Afghan military and the police, as well as those who worked for investigative units of the toppled government, were particularly at risk, the document said.
It contained a reproduced letter dated Aug. 16 from the Taliban to an unnamed counterterrorism official in Afghanistan who had worked with U.S. and British officials and then gone into hiding before the insurgents came to the official’s apartment.
The letter instructed the official to report to the Military and Intelligence Commission of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in Kabul. If not, it warned, the official’s family members “will be treated based on Shariah law.”
The Taliban have repeatedly issued assurances that they will not use their victory to wreak revenge on those who opposed them. The report adds to the growing doubts about that pledge, and suggests that the Taliban may indeed engage in reprisal killings, as they did when they took over in Afghanistan more than 20 years ago.
On Wednesday, a public display of dissent in the northeastern city of Jalalabad was met by force. Taliban soldiers fired into the crowd and beat protesters and journalists.
The Taliban faced the first street protests on Wednesday against their takeover of Afghanistan, with demonstrations in at least two cities, even as they moved to form a new government.
A public display of dissent in the northeastern city of Jalalabad was met by force. Taliban soldiers fired into the crowd and beat protesters and journalists.
The Taliban had taken control of the city, a commercial hub east of Kabul near the main border crossing with Pakistan, four days earlier without much of a fight after a deal was negotiated with local leaders. This week, the Taliban have been out in large numbers, patrolling the city in pickup trucks seized from the now defunct police force.
Despite the risks, hundreds of protesters marched through the main shopping street, whistling, shouting and bearing large flags of the Afghan Republic. Taliban fighters fired in the air to break up the crowd, but the protesters did not disperse, video aired by local news media outlets showed.
When that failed, the fighters resorted to violence. At least two people were killed and a dozen injured, according to Al Jazeera.
For the new Taliban government, the jarring images of violence at the protest — as well as images of chaos and people being beaten while trying to approach Kabul’s airport in an attempt to flee the country — have undermined their efforts to present themselves as responsible stewards of the government.
In Khost, in the southeastern part of the country, there were also demonstrations, with dramatic photos and video showing hundreds of people taking to the streets.
The outpouring of public anger came as the Taliban prepared to offer details on the shape of their government, naming ministers and filling key positions.
The younger brother of a top Taliban leader met in Kabul on Wednesday with former President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the Afghan delegation to the recent peace talks in Qatar. He was accompanied by the speaker of Afghanistan’s upper house of Parliament.
The meeting was further evidence of the group’s determination to gain international acceptance.
It followed a news conference on Tuesday in which the Taliban offered blanket amnesty, vowing no reprisals against former enemies.
“We don’t want Afghanistan to be a battlefield anymore,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s longtime chief spokesman, said. “From today onward, war is over.”
While many were skeptical of those assurances, in Kabul the rhythms of daily life started to return — but they were in many ways circumscribed.
There were noticeably fewer women on the streets. Some of those who ventured out did not cover up in the traditional burqa, the full-length shroud that covers the face that was required the last time the Taliban ruled. At homes and businesses, a knock on the door could stir fear.
It remains to be seen whether the pragmatic needs of a nation of 38 million will continue to temper the ideological fanaticism that defined the group’s rule from 1996 to 2001. But the country the Taliban now control is vastly changed from two decades ago.
The progress of women — women in critical roles in civil society and millions of girls in school — is the most visible example. But years of Western investment in the country also helped rebuild a nation that was in a state of ruin when the Taliban first emerged.
The protests offered early signs that many Afghans will not simply accept Taliban rule.
The Afghan government’s failure to meet people’s basic needs helped fuel support for the Taliban. That allowed them to sweep across the country swiftly — often not by military force, but by negotiation with frustrated local leaders.
On Wednesday, at a riverside market in Kabul, Jawed was selling apples. Born the year the Taliban were ousted from power, he was not old enough to remember their brutal reign.
His concern this week was getting supplies of fruit from Pakistan. That was now easier, he said.
“The roads are clear now — they are quiet,” said Jawed, who goes by one name. For now, the Taliban meant more order in the traffic, and wholesale prices had dropped. But business was not better.
“The people are afraid right now — they’re not buying,” he said. “But at least it is better than yesterday. Things will slowly improve. The mullahs have arrived.”
The arrival of the Taliban mullahs — a reference to group’s religious leaders — also set off widespread fear.
Tens of thousands are still trying to escape. People lined up early at the banks, worried that there wouldn’t be money to feed their families. And the deployment of soldiers at checkpoints across Kabul made it clear that Taliban have a monopoly on the use of force and would decide how and when to use it.
Chaos erupted outside Kabul’s international airport on Wednesday as thousands of people tried to make their way there to flee Afghanistan. The sound of heavy gunfire echoed through the streets leading to the facility.
There were conflicting reports about what exactly was happening on the streets outside the airport, which the Taliban now control.
A NATO security official at the airport told Reuters that 17 people had been injured in a stampede at one gate to the airport.
People were still camping out near the airport’s gates. Whole families sat under rows of pine trees lining the main airport road, while others, carrying sparse belongings, were still trying to gain entrance, to little avail. The Taliban still had their men stationed at the entrances. There were volleys of rifle fire, pushing, pulling and beating with wooden sticks, Kalashnikovs and pieces of cut hoses.
At one gate, Taliban members had positioned themselves on concrete road dividers overlooking the crowd. Their commander, Kalashnikov slung around the shoulder and megaphone in hand, told the people: “This gate is closed. Only foreigners and people with documents allowed.”
Although the U.S. military has established control inside the airport and military flights have resumed, the situation outside on Wednesday was volatile.
The Taliban have sought to present a kinder and gentler image of an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan to the world, but scenes near the airport offered a bloody counterpoint. Taliban members at times beat people with rifle butts and clubs to force back the crowd trying to get in.
Images taken on Tuesday by Marcus Yam, a photographer for the Los Angeles Times, were graphic: a man cradling a child with a bloodied forehead. A woman who appeared to be unconscious lying in the road a few feet away, blood streaming down her cheek.
A group of Afghan leaders are trying to rally a force to resist the Taliban from the same strategic valley that two decades ago held out against the militants — and provided American spies and special forces operators a launchpad for the invasion that drove the Taliban from power in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Yet the parallels with that earlier fight in a pocket north of Kabul known as the Panjshir Valley, however intriguing, are limited, and even Afghans sympathetic to the effort expressed deep doubts about its prospects.
Unlike 20 years ago, the resistance leaders do not control the territory they would need to open a supply line through Afghanistan’s northern borders, nor do they appear to have any significant international support.
How many men and how well supplied they are material is also an open question. Former Afghan officials put the number of fighters holed up in Panjshir between 2,000 and 2,500, and they are said to have little beyond assault weapons.
And the leaders, while well-established Afghan political and military figures, lack the charisma and military prowess of the man who led the old Northern Alliance that resisted the Taliban in the 1990s, Ahmad Shah Massoud. He was killed by assassins from Al Qaeda two days before the Sept. 11 attacks, and is now a mythic figure among the ethnic Tajiks who populate northern Afghanistan, and who made up the bulk of those who first fought Taliban rule.
For now, though, the leaders of the movement insist that their goal is to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban on behalf of the now-defunct Afghan government, said Amrullah Saleh, one of the men organizing the resistance.
Mr. Saleh was Afghanistan’s first vice president until Sunday, when President Ashraf Ghani fled Kabul ahead of the Taliban’s advance into the city, and he is now claiming to be the “caretaker president” under Afghanistan’s U.S.-brokered 2004 Constitution.
“We have lost territory but not legitimacy,” he said in an interview conducted over text message. “I, as caretaker president, upholder of the Constitution, don’t see the Taliban emirate either as legitimate or national.”
Mr. Salehhas been joined in Panjshir by Ahmad Massoud, the son of the assassinated resistance leader, and Gen. Yasin Zia, a former Afghan army chief of staff and deputy defense minister.
Afghanistan will have “peace and stability,” said Mohammad Zahir Aghbar, an Afghan ambassador to Tajikistan aligned with the holdouts in the Panjshir Valley, “if the Taliban who are in Doha and Pakistan agree to a settlement accepting what the world is asking for.”
Mr. Saleh said the group believed “in a genuine peace process, which doesn’t exist at the moment.”
“Should the Taliban be ready for meaningful discussions, we will welcome it,” he said. “If they insist on military conquest, than they better read Afghan history.”
The Panjshir Valley features prominently in that history.
The deep and narrow gorge at the valley’s mouth was tailor-made for obstruction and ambush, and the valley held out not only against the Taliban in the 1990s but also the Soviets in the 1980s. The first Americans to enter Afghanistan in September 2001, a small Central Intelligence Agency team, went to Panjshir to secure the Northern Alliance as allies.
Mr. Saleh said he survived “two attacks and one ambush” by Taliban fighters as he drove to Panjshir on Sunday.
Mr. Saleh, who also previously ran Afghanistan’s spy service, the National Directorate of Security, was cagey about what size force was in Panjshir, saying that he did not want “compromise our military secrets or operational security.”
“But we are on the top of the situation and organizing things,” he said, adding that his team was in touch with other Afghan leaders who fought the Taliban 20 years ago, though he would not name them.
Still, it was far from clear what outside help might arrive or whether Mr. Saleh’s claim to continuity of government under the Afghan Constitution would gain traction.
At least one place has bought in: the Afghan Embassy in Tajikistan. In the carpeted meeting rooms of the building, off a dusty, taxi-clogged street in Dushanbe, Mr. Ghani’s photographs have come down, and Mr. Saleh’s have gone up.
Farnaz Fassihi contributed reporting from New York.
World Health Organization officials warned on Wednesday that the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was impeding efforts to address the coronavirus pandemic and other dire health crises.
Gauging the spread of the coronavirus in Afghanistan has always been difficult because of a lack of testing. The average daily number of reported new cases peaked in late June at more than 2,000 and has since fallen sharply, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford. But it is likely that the figures do not reflect the actual spread of the virus.
Afghanistan’s vaccination efforts have struggled since they began in the spring, beset by corruption, limited public health resources and widespread public skepticism. According to Our World in Data, less than 2 percent of Afghanistan’s population has been vaccinated.
“In the midst of a pandemic, we’re extremely concerned by the large displacement of people and increasing cases of diarrhea, malnutrition, high blood pressure, probable cases of Covid-19 and reproductive health complications,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the W.H.O., said at a news conference.
He said that W.H.O staff are still in Afghanistan and are “committed to delivering health services to the most vulnerable.”
Many Afghans are vulnerable to diseases like polio, which has been eradicated in most of the world but is still endemic there. Fourteen million Afghans are suffering from hunger, United Nations officials said on Wednesday.
Aid groups are struggling to provide humanitarian assistance inside Afghanistan, as well as to the tens of thousands of refugees a week who are fleeing to neighboring countries.
“The utter desperation for a way out of Afghanistan speaks powerfully to the sense of fear and uncertainty among many Afghans,” said Caroline Van Buren, a representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Refugee camps, with their crowded and often unsanitary conditions, can become incubators for the virus, though many camps have fared better than experts initially feared they would.
U.N. officials said that their agencies in Afghanistan were in contact with the Taliban in an effort to coordinate aid and immunizations. Ms. Van Buren said the Taliban had so far provided protection for all of the refugee agency’s offices in the country.
At the same time, though, the Taliban have resumed some of the practices common when they held power 20 years ago. Ms. Van Buren said officials had received reports of women being prohibited from going to work, and, in some areas, barred from leaving their homes without being accompanied by a close male relative.
Some U.N. employees are pulling out. Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesman for the United Nations secretary general, said a group was leaving Kabul for Kazakhstan on Wednesday to set up a remote office there for the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. Mr. Dujarric declined to specify exactly how many were leaving, though he said the office in Almaty was expected to employ up to 100 people.
The fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban has sent thousands of panicked Afghans scrambling to flee the country, but panic is also being felt in some other quarters: Some European politicians are terrified of another mass movement of Muslim asylum seekers.
An influx of migrants, they fear, may fan the embers of the far-right and populist movements that reshaped European politics after a wave of asylum seekers sought refuge from the wars in Syria and Iraq in 2015.
In Germany, even before the first group of 19 Afghan refugees landed on Wednesday, the line was making the rounds in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative camp: “2015 mustn’t be repeated.”
Armin Laschet, who wants to succeed Ms. Merkel as chancellor after next month’s elections, said it on Monday. A party officialused the same words shortly after. And then a government minister repeated them yet again.
Support for anti-immigrant parties has been falling, along with the number of migrants. But with important elections looming in Germany and France, the line being drawn by European leaders is early and firm.
That means Afghans may be facing a compassion deficit in Europe that may be insurmountable.
It is not just Europe.
Other countries, especially the United States, faces a similar quandary over accepting Afghan asylum seekers.
Almost everywhere, governments have expressed general willingness to accept Afghans who worked alongside American forces or international aid groups. But they are wary of committing to the many thousands more who might seek to leave to avoid life under the Taliban.
For now, the number of migrants over land routes has been relatively low.
“We’re talking about thousands, not hundreds of thousands, who need and deserve our help, people who are on lists because they worked with us,” said Gerald Knaus, the founding chairman of the European Stability Initiative.
Given the overall drop in migration numbers in recent years, he said, it is “a straw man argument” to raise fears of another wave.
Intelligence reports presented to President Biden in the final days before the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan this past week failed to predict the imminence of the Afghan government’s collapse, even after warnings had grown more grim in July, senior intelligence officials acknowledged on Wednesday.
The intelligence agencies had been stepping up their warnings about the deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan throughout the summer. Their reports grew more specific in July, noting how the Taliban had taken control of roads leading to Kabul and how the group had learned lessons from their takeover of the country in the 1990s.
But senior administration officials acknowledged that as the pace of White House meetings on Afghanistan grew more frenzied in August and in the days leading up to the Taliban takeover this weekend, the intelligence agencies did not say the collapse was inevitable.
Over the past year, intelligence agencies shrank their predictions of how quickly the Afghan government would fall, from two years to 18 months to six months to a month, according to current and former officials. But, according to intelligence officials, the warning that its demise was days away never came.
“As the president indicated, this unfolded more quickly than we anticipated, including in the intelligence community,” Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence, said in a statement to The New York Times.
Still, senior officials noted, the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies had throughout the fighting season in Afghanistan identified the risk of a rapid collapse and issued increasingly pessimistic reports about the Afghan government’s survival, particularly as President Ashraf Ghani resisted changing military strategies or creating a more inclusive government.
During the frenzied first 48 hours after the collapse of the Afghan government, the desperate scenes at Kabul’s international airport early this week drew parallels to the fall of Saigon.
Now, even though the airport is under the control of the U.S. military and evacuation flights have been stepped up, tens of thousands of Afghans are still struggling to find a way to escape Taliban rule.
And the American experience in Vietnam is being invoked again — as an illustration of how much more the United States could be doing if it had the political will and international support that followed the American exit from Vietnam.
After the war in Vietnam, a bipartisan consensus and collective sense of moral responsibility helped provide the framework for Operation New Life, which swiftly evacuated 130,000 vulnerable, mainly Vietnamese, people to a makeshift refugee camp on the island of Guam. From there, they were processed and moved to temporary migration centers across the United States.
Over the course of years of sustained efforts, 1.4 million Vietnamese people eventually settled in the country.
Now, the United States is trying to provide safety for a far smaller number, and has struggled in that effort.
Pentagon officials said that the pace of the current flights had quickened after more American troops arrived to secure the Kabul airport, with military planes and a smaller number of commercial flights operating.
“There are important parallels between the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the current situation, with implications for addressing current humanitarian needs,” said Alexander Betts, a professor of forced migration and international affairs at the University of Oxford.
“The parallels should be inspiring,” he said, “and show that with political will and international leadership, large-scale resettlement is possible.”
But he said there was now unlikely to be the same degree of political support for admitting large numbers of refugees.
“The politics of refugee assistance is also very different in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, including public concerns relating to security and refugees from predominantly Muslim countries,” he said.
The United Nations said Wednesday that it was temporarily relocating some of its aid workers from Afghanistan to Kazakhstan to work remotely, but stressed that it intended to maintain a presence in the country.
“The U.N. is committed to stay and deliver in support of the Afghan people in their hour of need,” a spokesman for Secretary General António Guterres said in a statement Wednesday.
The organization said a group of staff members was en route to Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city.
“In light of security and other constraints in Kabul and other parts of the country at the moment,” the statement said, “it was decided to move part of the U.N. staff out of the country. Personnel will return to Afghanistan as conditions permit.”
The announcement came as humanitarian groups that also provide badly needed aid to the people of Afghanistan were regrouping. Many indicated that they intended to stay in the country, with the Taliban assuring them that their staff would not be harmed.
“At this point, we have not received any specific threat for any of our offices,” Hassan Noor, Asia regional director for Save the Children, said in a briefing on Wednesday. He said Taliban representatives had met with the charity’s staff and told them they would not face consequences for delivering services.
The organization, which offers health, education and nutrition support to Afghan children, said that its staff members — almost 1,800 people working across 10 provinces — would remain in Afghanistan to try to deliver services, depending on how the situation unfolded, and that many humanitarian organizations had also opted to stay.
But as of Saturday, Save the Children programs, which reached about 1.6 million Afghans in 2020, were temporarily suspended, and Mr. Noor said the group had been working on safeguarding workers, some of whom had already been relocated.
“We are extremely concerned about our staff,” he said, “and that is our top priority at the moment.”
Information about the situation on the ground in Afghanistan remains “very murky,” said Mr. Noor, but even before last week, some three million people had already been reported displaced. About 14 million people were having trouble meeting daily food requirements because of an enduring drought in Afghanistan, and some two million children depended on nutrition services to survive.
The previous Taliban rule in Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, was a bleak period for Afghan women, who were barred from working outside the home or leaving the house without a male guardian. The Taliban eliminated schooling for girls and publicly flogged people who violated the group’s morality code.
The question now is whether the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic law will be as draconian as when the group last held power.
Taliban officials are trying to reassure women that things will be different this time. In a news conference in Kabul on Tuesday, a Taliban spokesman said that women would be allowed to work and study. Another Taliban official said that women should participate in government.
“We assure that there will be no violence against women,” the spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said. “No prejudice against women will be allowed, but the Islamic values are our framework.” Pressed for details, he said only that women could participate in society “within the bounds of Islamic law.”
But there are scattered signs that, at least in some areas, the Taliban have begun to reimpose the old order.
Women in some provinces have been told not to leave home without a male relative escorting them. In Herat, in western Afghanistan, Taliban gunmen guarded the university’s gates and prevented female students and instructors from entering the campus on Tuesday, witnesses said.
In the southern city of Kandahar, women’s health care clinics were shut down, a resident said. In some districts, girls’ schools have been closed since the Taliban seized control of them in November.
Women there said they were starting to wear the head-to-toe burqa in the street, partly in fear and partly in anticipation of restrictions ordered by the Taliban.
At Kabul University, in the capital, female students were told they were not allowed to leave their dorm rooms unless accompanied by a male guardian. Two students said they were effectively trapped because they had no male relatives in the city.
In Mazar-i-Sharif, in northern Afghanistan, Aliya Kazimy, a 27-year-old university professor, said that women shopping alone in the city’s bazaar had been turned away and told to return with male guardians.
“I am from the generation that had a lot of opportunities after the fall of the Taliban 20 years ago,” she said in a text message. “I was able to achieve my goals of studying, and for a year I’ve been a university professor, and now my future is dark and uncertain. All these years of working hard and dreaming were for nothing. And the little girls who are just starting out, what future awaits them?”
For China’s leaders, the chaotic scenes unfolding in Afghanistan have served as stinging vindication of their hostility to American might. But any smugness in Beijing could be premature.
China is now left scrambling to judge how the American defeat could reshape the contest between the world’s two great powers. While the Taliban’s rout has weakened American prestige and its influence on China’s western frontier, it could also create new geopolitical dangers and security risks.
Officials in Beijing worry that extremists could use Afghanistan to regroup on China’s flank and sow violence around the region, even as the Taliban look to deep-pocketed countries like China for aid and investment. The American military withdrawal could also allow the United States to direct its planning and matériel toward countering Chinese power across Asia.
“There should be anxiety rather than glee in Beijing,” said John Delury, a professor of Chinese studies at Yonsei University in Seoul. “Ending the military presence in Afghanistan frees up resources and attention to focus on the long-term rivalry with China.”
KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban captured a regional hub city in western Afghanistan on Friday, officials said, the first provincial capital to fall to the insurgency since the Biden administration announced the full withdrawal of U.S. troops.
The successful takeover marks a significant milestone in the insurgents’ relentless march to increase their stranglehold on the Afghan government and retake power in the country. The Taliban have besieged a host of such cities for weeks, and the fall of Zaranj, the provincial capital of Nimruz Province on the Afghanistan-Iran border, is the Taliban’s first breakthrough. And it handed the insurgents another crucial international border crossing, the latest in its recent campaign to control road access in Afghanistan.
A regional administrative hub is now completely controlled by the Taliban, an attention-grabbing addition to their steady drumbeat of rural victories in recent months. It was a considerable setback for the government, which has had to contend with simultaneous attacks on capital cities that have stretched military resources desperately thin.
The collapse of Zaranj at the hands of the insurgents was confirmed Friday by Rohgul Khairzad, the deputy governor of Nimruz, and Hajji Baz Mohammad Naser, the head of the provincial council.
coordinated attack by the insurgent group on the residence of the acting defense minister that left eight people dead. That assault highlighted the Taliban’s ability to strike in the heart of the Afghan capital as they continue their sweeping military campaign.
In northern Afghanistan on Friday, the Taliban attacked another provincial capital, Sheberghan, from five directions, burning houses and wedding halls, and assaulting the police headquarters and the prison. There were numerous civilian casualties, said Halima Sadaf Karimi, a member of Parliament from Jowzjan Province, of which Sheberghan is the capital.
Fighting also continued around the major western city of Herat, in Kandahar city in the south and in other provincial capitals.
The government’s response to the insurgents’ recent victories has been piecemeal. Afghan forces have retaken some districts, but both the Afghan Air Force and its commando forces — which have been deployed to hold what territory remains as regular army and police units retreat, surrender or refuse to fight — are exhausted.
In the security forces’ stead, the government has once more looked to local militias to fill the gaps, a move reminiscent of the chaotic and ethnically divided civil war of the 1990s that many Afghans now fear will return.
In recent weeks, the U.S. military has increased airstrikes on Taliban positions around crucial cities in an effort to give Afghan forces on the ground time to regroup. The strikes alone do little to change the situation on the ground, but have slowed Taliban advances.
The United States is supposed to complete its withdrawal by Aug. 31, at which point the Biden administration has said its military operations will end. That would give the Afghan government mere weeks to reconstitute its security forces to defend the cities and territory still under its control.
At a special session of the United Nations Security Council on Friday, Deborah Lyons, the special representative of the U.N. secretary-general for Afghanistan, warned that without action, the country could descend “into a situation of catastrophe so serious that it would have few, if any, parallels in this century.”
Afghanistan, she said, had come to resemble the battlefields of Syria and Sarajevo, with the Taliban making a “strategic decision” to attack urban areas, causing hundreds of deaths among civilians in just the last few weeks. The fighting, she said, comes on top of a punishing drought that has left 18.5 million people in need of humanitarian aid.
She added: “As one Afghan put it to us recently, ‘We are no longer talking about preserving the progress and the rights we have gained, we are talking about mere survival.’”
Reporting was contributed by Christina Goldbaum, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Michael Schwirtz.
ATHENS — Shells of houses and cars left gutted by flames. Stretches of forest reduced to ash. Tourists evacuated by boat from once idyllic beaches where the skies are thick with smoke. As southern Europe grapples with one of its worst heat waves in decades, deadly forest fires have engulfed stretches of the region, bringing a newly reopened tourism industry to a halt and forcing mass evacuations.
The raging fires pushed residents from their homes in villages on the Greek mainland and islands and across neighboring Turkey, and forced tourists to abandon beachside destinations across the region.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the government’s handling of the deadly disaster, with opponents denouncing the lack of aerial support for the firefighting efforts.
Hundreds of square miles of forest burned as more than 180 fires blazed across the country. At least eight people died, hundreds were injured and dozens lost their homes.
in a video posted on Twitter. “My forest is in flames right now.”
Firefighters were able to control a fire approaching a power plant in Milas after working through the night to save the facility. Trees on the grounds of the power plant were burned, but the main site was not seriously damaged, officials said.
Greece battled multiple large fires across the country that killed scores of people.
While scientists have not yet had time to evaluate the connection between the current wave of extreme temperatures and global warming, it fits an overall trend that has seen climate change play a role in extreme weather in Europe. Research has shown that in major heat waves across Europe in recent summers, climate change has been a significant worsening factor.
Efthymis Lekkas, a professor of natural disaster management at the University of Athens, warned of “an enduring nightmare in August,” and urged the authorities to be ready for potential flooding after the destruction of large stretches of forest.
Greece’s General Secretariat for Civil Protection warned of an “extreme” risk of fires on Friday, as intense winds are forecast to worsen the situation.
Niki Kitsantonis reported from Athens and Megan Specia reported from New York.
TRIPOLI, Lebanon — Rania Mustafa’s living room recalls a not-so-distant past, when the modest salary of a security guard in Lebanon could buy an air-conditioner, plush furniture and a flat-screen TV.
But as the country’s economic crisis worsened, she lost her job and watched her savings evaporate. Now, she plans to sell her furniture to pay the rent and struggles to afford food, much less electricity or a dentist to fix her 10-year-old daughter’s broken molar.
For dinner on a recent night, lit by a single cellphone, the family shared thin potato sandwiches donated by a neighbor. The girl chewed gingerly on one side of her mouth to avoid her damaged tooth.
“I have no idea how we’ll continue,” said Ms. Mustafa, 40, at home in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city, after Beirut.
The huge explosion one year ago in the port of Beirut, which killed more than 200 people and left a large swath of the capital in shambles, only added to the desperation.
and the central bank unable to keep propping up the currency, as it had for decades, because of a drop in foreign cash flows into the country. Now, the bottom has fallen out of the economy, leaving shortages of food, fuel and medicine.
All but the wealthiest Lebanese have cut meat from their diets and wait in long lines to fuel their cars, sweating through sweltering summer nights because of extended power cuts.
long lines at gas stations, where drivers wait for hours to buy only a few gallons, or none at all if the station runs out.
hampered the investigation into the port explosion, and a billionaire telecoms tycoon, Najib Mikati, is currently the third politician to try to form a government since the last cabinet resigned after the blast.
Mustafa Allouch, the deputy head of the Future Movement, a prominent political party, said, like many other Lebanese, that he feared that the political system, intended to share power between a range of sects, was incapable of addressing the country’s problems.
“I don’t think it will work anymore,” he said. “We have to look for another system, but I don’t know what it is.”
His greatest fear was “blind violence” born out of desperation and rage.
“Looting, shooting, assaults on homes and small shops,” he said. “Why it hasn’t happened by now, I don’t know.”
The crisis has hit the poor hardest.
Five days a week, scores of people line up for free meals from a charity kitchen in Tripoli, some equipped with cut off shampoo bottles to carry their food because they can’t afford regular containers.
Robert Ayoub, the project’s head, said demand is going up, donations from inside Lebanon are going down, and the newcomers represent a new kind of poor: soldiers, bank employees and civil servants whose salaries have lost the bulk of their value.
In line on a recent day were a laborer who had walked an hour from home because he couldn’t afford transportation; a brick layer whose work had dried up; and Dunia Shehadeh, an unemployed housekeeper who picked up a tub of pasta and lentil soup for her husband and three children.
“This will hardly be enough for them,” she said.
The country’s downward spiral has set off a new wave of migration, as Lebanese with foreign passports and marketable skills seek better fortune abroad.
“I can’t live in this place, and I don’t want to live in this place,” said Layal Azzam, 39, before catching a flight to Saudi Arabia from Beirut’s international airport.
She and her husband had returned to Lebanon from abroad a few years ago and invested $50,000 in a business. But she said that it had failed and that she worried they would struggle to find care if their children got sick.
“There’s no electricity. They could cut the water. Prices are high. Even if someone sends you money from abroad, it doesn’t last,” she said. “There are too many crises.”
Drone footage by David Enders and Bryan Denton. Hwaida Saad contributed reporting.
KABUL, Afghanistan — Haji Sakhi decided to flee Afghanistan the night he saw two Taliban members drag a young woman from her home and lash her on the sidewalk. Terrified for his three daughters,he crammed his family into a car the next morning and barreled down winding dirt roads into Pakistan.
That was more than 20 years ago. They returned to Kabul, the capital, nearly a decade later after the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime. But now, with the Taliban sweeping across parts of the country as American forces withdraw, Mr. Sakhi, 68, fears a return of the violence he witnessed that night. This time, he says, his family is not waiting so long to leave.
“I’m not scared of leaving belongings behind, I’m not scared of starting everything from scratch,” said Mr. Sakhi, who recently applied for Turkish visas for himself, his wife, their three daughters and one son. “What I’m scared of is the Taliban.”
earlier this month. “A failure to reach a peace agreement in Afghanistan and stem the current violence will lead to further displacement.”
The sudden exodus harks back to earlier periods of heightened unrest:Millions poured out of Afghanistan in the years after the Soviets invaded in 1979. A decade later, more fled as the Soviets withdrew and the country fell into civil war. The exodus continued when the Taliban came to power in 1996.
Afghans currently account for one of the world’s largest populations of refugees and asylum seekers — around 3 million people — and represent the second highest number of asylum claims in Europe, after Syria.
Now the country is at the precipice of another bloody chapter, but the new outpouring of Afghans comes as attitudes toward migrants have hardened around the world.
After forging a repatriation deal in 2016 to stem migration from war-afflicted countries, Europe has deported tens of thousands of Afghan migrants. Hundreds of thousands more are being forced back by Turkey as well as by neighboring Pakistan and Iran, which together host around 90 percent of displaced Afghans worldwide and have deported a record number of Afghans in recent years.
Coronavirus restrictions have also made legal and illegal migration more difficult, as countries closed their borders and scaled back refugee programs, pushing thousands of migrants to travel to Europe along more dangerous routes.
civilian casualties reach record highs, many Afghans remain determined to leave.
One recent morning in Kabul, people gathered outside the passport office. Within hours, a line snaked around three city blocks and past a mural of migrants with an ominous warning: “Don’t jeopardize you and your family’s lives. Migration is not the solution.”
Central Europe have called to increase their border security as well, fearing the current exodus could swell into a crisis similar to that in 2015 when nearly a million, mostly Syrian migrants entered Europe.
But in Afghanistan, about half of the country’s population is already in need of humanitarian assistance this year — twice as many people as last year and six times as many as four years ago, according to the United Nations.
Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi, 40, borrowed $1,000 to bring 36 relatives to Kabul after the Taliban attacked his village in Malistan district. Today his three-room apartment, situated on the edge of the city, feels more like a crowded shelter than a home.
The men sleep in one large living room, women stay in the other and the children cram into the apartment’s one small bedroom alongside bags of clothes and cleaning supplies. Mr. Mohammadi borrows more money from neighbors to buy enough bread and chicken — which have nearly doubled in price as food prices surge — to feed everyone.
Now, sinking further into debt with no relief in sight, he is at a loss for what to do.
“These families are sick, they are traumatized, they have lost everything,” he said, standing near his kitchen’s one countertop — out of earshot from his family. “Unless the situation improves, I don’t know what we will do.”
Asad Timory contributed reporting from Herat; Zabihullah Ghazi from Laghman; Fahim Abed and Jim Huylebroek from Kabul.
SAN ANTONIO HUISTA, Guatemala — An American contractor went to a small town in the Guatemalan mountains with an ambitious goal: to ignite the local economy, and hopefully even persuade people not to migrate north to the United States.
Half an hour into his meeting with coffee growers, the contractor excitedly revealed the tool he had brought to change their lives: a pamphlet inviting the farmers to download an app to check coffee prices and “be a part of modern agriculture.”
Pedro Aguilar, a coffee farmer who hadn’t asked for the training and didn’t see how it would keep anyone from heading for the border, looked confused. Eyeing the U.S. government logo on the pamphlet, he began waving it around, asking if anyone had a phone number to call the Americans “and tell them what our needs really are.”
soared in 2019 and is on the upswing once more.
have risen, malnutrition has become a national crisis, corruption is unbridled and the country is sending more unaccompanied children to the United States than anywhere else in the world.
That is the stark reality facing Ms. Harris as she assumes responsibility for expanding the same kind of aid programs that have struggled to stem migration in the past. It is a challenge that initially frustrated her top political aides, some of whom viewed the assignment from Mr. Biden as one that would inevitably set her up for failure in the first months of her tenure.
Her allies worried that she would be expected to solve the entire immigration crisis, irked that the early reports of her new duties appeared to hold her responsible for juggling the recent surge of children crossing the border without adults.
linked to drug traffickers and accused of embezzling American aid money, the leader of El Salvador has been denounced for trampling democratic norms and the government of Guatemala has been criticized for persecuting officials fighting corruption.
Even so, Ms. Harris and her advisers have warmed to the task, according to several people familiar with her thinking in the White House. They say it will give her a chance to dive squarely into foreign policy and prove that she can pass the commander-in-chief test, negotiating with world leaders on a global stage to confront one of America’s most intractable issues.
critics denounced as unlawful and inhumane. Moreover, members of the current administration contend that Mr. Trump’s decision to freeze a portion of the aid to the region in 2019 ended up blunting the impact of the work being done to improve conditions there.
But experts say the reasons that years of aid have not curbed migration run far deeper than that. In particular, they note that much of the money is handed over to American companies, which swallow a lot of it for salaries, expenses and profits, often before any services are delivered.
Record numbers of Central American children and families were crossing, fleeing gang violence and widespread hunger.
independent studies have found.
“All activities funded with U.S.A.I.D.’s foreign assistance benefit countries and people overseas, even if managed through agreements with U.S.-based organizations,” said Mileydi Guilarte, a deputy assistant administrator at U.S.A.I.D. working on Latin America funding.
But the government’s own assessments don’t always agree. After evaluating five years of aid spending in Central America, the Government Accountability Office rendered a blunt assessment in 2019: “Limited information is available about how U.S. assistance improved prosperity, governance, and security.”
One U.S.A.I.D. evaluation of programs intended to help Guatemalan farmers found that from 2006 to 2011, incomes rose less in the places that benefited from U.S. aid than in similar areas where there was no intervention.
Mexico has pushed for a more radical approach, urging the United States to give cash directly to Central Americans affected by two brutal hurricanes last year. But there’s also a clear possibility — that some may simply use the money to pay a smuggler for the trip across the border.
The farmers of San Antonio Huista say they know quite well what will keep their children from migrating. Right now, the vast majority of people here make their money by selling green, unprocessed coffee beans to a few giant Guatemalan companies. This is a fine way to put food on the table — assuming the weather cooperates — but it doesn’t offer much more than subsistence living.
Farmers here have long dreamed of escaping that cycle by roasting their own coffee and selling brown beans in bags to American businesses and consumers, which brings in more money.
“Instead of sending my brother, my father, my son to the United States, why not send my coffee there, and get paid in dollars?” said Esteban Lara, the leader of a local coffee cooperative.
But when they begged a U.S. government program for funding to help develop such a business, Ms. Monzón said, they were told “the money is not designed to be invested in projects like that.”
These days, groups of her neighbors are leaving for the United States every month or two. So many workers have abandoned this town that farmers are scrambling to find laborers to harvest their coffee.
One of Ms. Monzón’s oldest employees, Javier López Pérez, left with his 14-year-old son in 2019, during the last big wave of Central American migration to the United States. Mr. López said he was scaling the border wall with his son when he fell and broke his ankle.
“My son screamed, ‘Papi, no!’ and I said to him, ‘Keep going, my son,’” Mr. López said. He said his son made it to the United States, while he returned to San Antonio Huista alone.
His family was then kicked out of their home, which Mr. López had given as collateral to the person who smuggled him to the border. The house they moved into was destroyed by the two hurricanes that hit Guatemala late last year.
Ms. Monzón put Mr. López in one of her relatives’ houses, then got the community to cobble together money to pay for enough cinder blocks to build the family a place to live.
While mixing cement to bind the blocks together, one of Mr. López’s sons, Vidal, 19, confessed that he had been talking to a smuggler about making the same journey that felled his father, who was realistic at the prospect.
“I told him, ‘Son, we suffered hunger and thirst along the way, and then look at what happened to me, look at what I lost,’” Mr. López said, touching his still-mangled ankle. “But I can’t tell him what to do with his life — he’s a man now.”
HONG KONG — A half year after he got out of prison, Daniel Tang has made a habit of going back. He waits in spare, crowded corridors. He greets familiar faces among the fellow visitors and guards. He brings books, postage stamps, writing paper and packets of M&Ms.
Mr. Tang is visiting people like him who were imprisoned for their role in the pro-democracy street protests that rocked Hong Kong in 2019. He travels three hours, round-trip, for a 15-minute chat through a thick plate of glass, sometimes with a total stranger. He summons a cheery, chatty demeanor, when he feels anything but.
“You owe them your best face,” he said. “If you’re not feeling right, don’t even bother going.”
Mr. Tang and many of those he meets with represent a new breed of convict in Hong Kong: activists who opposed the Chinese Communist Party’s growing power in the city. This group — often including college students or white-collar professionals — rose up two years ago in a historic campaign of public disobedience that led to clashes with police on the streets and focused the world’s attention on the future of the Asian financial capital.
tough new laws imposed by Beijing, mass arrests and the hazards of the coronavirus. Now, with dim job prospects, a fraught political future and the unending threat of another arrest, those protesters are emblematic of the uncertainties facing the city’s stricken democracy movement.
about 7,000 people. Beijing’s imposition last year of a national security law gives prosecutors greater powers to target even more.
Many of the activists are contemplating a future in exile. Others struggle to stay committed to the cause for which they sit behind bars.
“Being sentenced to jail fractures people,” said Alex Chow, a 30-year-old activist who spent a brief time in jail for his role as a leader of protests in 2014, a precursor to the 2019 demonstrations. He now lives in exile in the United States.
as well as veterans. Those sentenced to prison so far include Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam, young leaders of the 2014 protests. Wong Ji-yuet, 23, and Owen Chow, 24, activists who participated in a primary election that was organized by the pro-democracy camp, are awaiting trial in solitary confinement after they were charged with endangering national security.
For many young people in jail, the sentences have redrawn their lives.
Jackie Yeung, a 23-year-old university student serving a three-year prison sentence, said she had abandoned the “typical ambitions” she used to harbor — getting a good job and an apartment in a family-friendly district.
statement ahead of her sentencing. “And I have no way of comforting them through the glass in the visitation room in prison.”
She dreams of opening up a small business importing Taiwanese pineapples after she and a Taiwanese cellmate are released. With the profits, she would support other young people by helping to pay their legal fees and living expenses. “To do anything, you need money,” she said.
To make things easier on prisoners, Mr. Tang and some other activists have banded together to provide support. They write letters and gazettes to catch people up with protest news and raise funds to pay for better meals in jail while protesters await trials.
Mr. Tang frequently sees Ms. Yeung. During one visit to her prison near the border with the mainland city of Shenzhen, he brought pens and stamps. He left the stamps, but was unable to give her the pens, as it would have exceeded her monthly allowance of two.
For all of his dedication, Mr. Tang, who spent more than a half-year imprisoned after pleading guilty to arson charges, says it doesn’t feel like it’s enough.
“Many Hong Kongers have moved on and moved away and don’t think about how there is a group of people sitting behind bars for the movement we all fought for,” said Mr. Tang, who is in his late 30s. “It seems many have forgotten.”
Far from radicalizing during his time on the inside, Mr. Tang now struggles with cynicism and meaning in a city that suddenly seems unfamiliar. He has been disheartened by the protest movement’s stagnation and by the waves of migration out of the city. The camaraderie of protest has been replaced by dread of ever more targeted arrests. He sees it all as an abandonment of values and believes that escape is a privilege unavailable to many.
Mr. Tang’s protester friends from prison also seem to be moving on. A group chat they kept, called the “Lai Chi Kok Prisoners,” after the facility where they were detained, still lights up occasionally with holiday greetings and vague laments. But few want to talk politics. Sometimes those in prison that do speak out seem to be exaggerating their place in the movement. He rolls his eyes at one prisoner, who has taken to calling himself Mandela 2.0.
“All that we have left is our relationships with one another,” he said. “Some seem ready to let that go.”
Yet, for Mr. Tang, there is no road back — not that he’d take it. His former employer was understanding, but let him go when his absence stretched on. He has been unable to access his life savings, he said, after his bank account was frozen over automated donations he made in 2019 to a protester bail fund that police placed under investigation.
He has applied to managerial jobs like those he had worked in the past, only to be turned away because of his criminal record. Now, he’s mulling applying for a taxi license or working in construction.
He still faces four charges related to the protests that were filed just days before his release from prison. The thought of officers at his door has kept him away from the apartment he shares with his mother. He tells her he now works a night shift, and she doesn’t press him.
“I’m really tired,” Mr. Tang said. “The government has left us no room to resist and nowhere to go.”