Afghan family stranded at the airport 3 weeks after desperate attempt to escape the Taliban’s “death sentence”
The US has ended its 20 year war, but the American armed forces seem increasingly to have left the Taliban on their way back to a position of power. As the insurgents recapture territories at an alarming rate, thousands of Afghans are looking for ways to flee their country for fear of a complete military takeover by Islamic fundamentalists.
For most of them there is no way out, and even for those who have the means, the path to refuge is far from clear. One family managed to leave Afghanistan only to be stuck in an airport with nowhere to go and no help was offered.
Farshad, who just wanted to give his first name, has been stranded at Istanbul International Airport in Turkey with 15 family members, including two children and seven women, since they fled Afghanistan on June 23, and their extended family was made easy after the Taliban murdered a relative of Farshad in the southern city of Herat.
The family decided to sell their houses and buy tickets to a 2020 European Football Championship match in Russia. The plan was to get there and then apply for asylum. But the family says they were prevented by the Turkish border police and airlines from boarding their connecting flight to Russia in Istanbul and threatened with deportation.
“Our boarding passes expired and we couldn’t buy any food. We hardly found any milk for the 2-year-old child [and when we did] that made him sick, “Farshad told CBS News on the phone from an airport immigration detention center.
The family was unable to continue their journey but refused to be sent back home to risk their lives under the intervening Taliban and was stranded at the airport. They spent 16 days in the terminal before the authorities took them to the detention center.
“We are 16 Afghans who are stuck at the airport for 17 days. We live here without food, water or milk for our baby. We have a sick person and no one helped us with treatment,” said one of the female family members in a video shared with CBS News last week. “We fled Afghanistan because of the life-threatening situation with the Taliban. We were in danger and threatened murder and death. We will not return to Afghanistan and we want protection.”
Another video sent by the family shows a young woman lying on airport seats and obviously feeling uncomfortable. “She is in pain at Turkey’s international airport,” says a male relative. “Nobody cares.”
“She has been in pain for more than 10 days and no one is taking care of her and there is nothing we can do. We have no access to drugs and medical care,” says another man. It wasn’t clear what the woman was suffering from, but she appeared to be having trouble breathing in the video. Another clip showed her struggling to walk down an airport corridor near the toilets, assisted by an elderly family member.
On Wednesday, CBS News was unable to reach the family who had decided to apply for asylum in Turkey on the phone.
Farshad worked with the U.S. Agency for International Development from 2018 until his escape, and some of his family members worked with other foreign organizations advocating for the rights of women and war victims – work that puts them at risk of retaliation the Taliban could suspend.
At the detention center, the family was divided into two rooms – men in one and women in another – and they were kept separate for three days, Farshad told CBS News.
Because President Joe Biden plans for a fullOn May 1st from Afghanistan, Taliban fighters made significant gains, including in Herat province, from which Farshad’s family came. Only about 650 US soldiers remain in the country, help secure the US embassy and the international airport in Kabul, but no longer take part in the fight with the Taliban.
Afghan officials told CBS News a grim picture of the situation. They say the country could sink into full-blown civil war if political agreement is not reached between the government and the militant group.
The Taliban have conquered other important districts across the country in recent weeks and also surrounded provincial capitals. They checked several border crossings with neighboring countries in the past week, including one in Herat. The Afghan border police who occupied the post fled across the border into Iran for protection when the militants advanced.
On Monday, Finland temporarily stopped all deportations of Afghan refugees to their home countries, citing the unstable situation in Afghanistan.
“For the time being, we are not making any decisions that would lead to deportation to Afghanistan,” Finnish immigration officials told Reuters. “We cannot say what the situation would be like for a person returning to certain areas.”
Their decision came a day after the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Returns issued a formal order to European nations to stop the deportation of Afghan nationals, citing the “escalation of violence in the country by the Taliban terrorist group and the spread of the third wave of COVID-19. “
The ministry said it had consulted other Afghan government authorities and “did not see the current situation in the country as conducive to the forced return of Afghan migrants until the security situation improved” and therefore prohibited forced returns from Europe for at least three months.
The US government is currentlyand others who, along with their family members, supported the American war effort in the country in a complex airlift. The Biden government has announced that it will offer thousands of additional visas to Afghan women that could be targeted by the Taliban.
“We want the Turkish government to grant us international protection, either in Turkey or in a country other than Afghanistan,” said Farshad. “If they send us back to Afghanistan, they would give sheep to the hungry wolves – a death sentence.”
At the time of publication, the Turkish Interior Ministry had not yet responded to CBS News’ request for comments on the Afghan family’s asylum application or their current circumstances in the detention center.
Farshad’s family did not want to be identified for fear that talking to the media would affect their asylum application in Turkey.
During a briefing for journalists in Geneva on Tuesday, the spokesman for the United Nations Refugee Agency warned of an “impending humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan” amid escalating violence.
UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said that since January alone, around 270,000 Afghans have been forced to leave their homes and be internally displaced, “mainly due to insecurity and violence – bringing the total uprooted population to over 3.5 million”.