As Fears Grip Afghanistan, Hundreds of Thousands Flee

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.

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Over 40 Dead in Tajik-Kyrgyz Border Clash as Death Toll Rises

MOSCOW — A border clash this week between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan killed more than 40 people, government officials said Friday, significantly raising the death toll for an episode that began as a dispute over irrigation water.

The outbreak of violence comes at a delicate time for the United States after the Biden administration announced a full withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, which borders Tajikistan to the south, by September. The nations of Central Asia provide an alternative to Pakistan as an overland route to withdraw American military equipment.

The fighting around a Tajik enclave in southwestern Kyrgyzstan briefly resumed on Friday before the countries’ presidents spoke on the phone and agreed to meet next month. The sides had agreed to a cease-fire Thursday.

The office of Kyrgyzstan’s president, Sadyr Zhaparov, issued a statement saying it was “confident that mutually beneficial cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will continually and fruitfully develop on the basis of traditional and centuries-old friendship and honesty between the peoples.”

reports suggested the situation on the ground, entangled in local grievances and raw ethnic tension, remained unfriendly. Videos posted online showed Tajik-speakers rejoicing as Kyrgyz homes burned in one village.

What began with rock throwing between Tajiks and Kyrgyz in villages along the border escalated into an exchange of small-arms fire between border guards and other security forces.

Kyrgyz authorities said that the Tajik government had deployed military forces in the region before the escalation and that a helicopter attacked a border post. Still, when the fighting stopped with a cease-fire Thursday both sides reported a total of six dead.

But on Friday the Ministry of Health of Kyrgyzstan said 31 people died and 154 people were wounded on its side. The national authorities in Tajikistan have not released a death toll for their side, but local media citing regional officials said 10 people had died and 90 were wounded.

The fighting centered around Vorukh, a Tajik enclave in Kyrgyzstan that has for years been a hot spot in a long-simmering conflict over ethnic enclaves in and around the Ferghana Valley in Central Asia, a legacy of the Soviet breakup.

Another long-running security headache in Central Asia has been water politics. Tajikistan controls the headwaters of many of the region’s rivers that the four other former Soviet states, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, depend on for irrigation. The fighting this week began over control of an irrigation canal.

In the early stages of the Afghan war, the United States opened two bases in Central Asia to move troops into Afghanistan, and also transported everything from fuel to food on an overland route through the region and into the war zone.

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