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.