Afghan refugee tells of daring escape from the Taliban
Posing as a stationery salesman and wearing down at heel, provincial clothing Afghan refugee ‘Ahmed’ made a daring escape into Pakistan under the noses of the Taliban.
As a senior Afghan government official, he faced prison or worse if he had been captured by the brutal fundamentalist regime which seized control of the capital Kabul on August 15, last year.
After manipulating his social media accounts to throw the Taliban off his tail and hiding out with relatives for three months, Ahmed was desperate to find a way out for his family.
“I worked closely with the foreign embassies who were supporting the Afghan government. I was the representative of the Home Ministry in meeting with the embassies,” said ‘Ahmed’, whose identity is not being revealed to protect the safety of relatives still living under the brutal Taliban regime.
“We had US and Australian defence force advisors and it was my defence contacts in Australia who helped me get visas for my family,” he said.
“I had a very good life and a good job in Afghanistan and we had great support and advice on policy and operations; we were building our nation.
“But on August 15 something happened that was beyond belief. We didn’t think the Taliban could return but they did. The government collapsed.
“We knew the new regime was very cruel and would target those who with the previous government. Some people were taken out of their homes at night and their bodies were found on the roadside the next day.
“Many people in Afghanistan are now facing a tough life and difficulties. I was in danger otherwise I would not have left my country,” Ahmed said.
As soon as the Afghan government of Ashraf Ghani fell, Ahmed went into hiding in a relative’s house.
His first self-preservation response was the change the settings on his social media accounts.
“I changed my Facebook account to appear as though I was in Australia. I think this stopped people from searching for me and it might have saved my life,” Ahmed said.
With eight children and a heavily pregnant wife, getting into the airport and on an evacuation flight was not an option. While in hiding in Kabul, Abdul’s ninth child, a son called Wasim, was born.
After three months in hiding in, Ahmed hatched a plan to take himself and his family beyond the deadly clutches of the Taliban.
“I was in hiding in Kabul until November 19th when I was able to get inti Pakistan. DFAT had told me that if could get to the Australian High Commission in Islamabad, they would support me.
“I managed to get a visa for Pakistan and got to the border with my eldest son. The Taliban at the border checkpoint questioned me, asking where I was going. I had grown a beard and was dressed like a local.
“I told them I was a small businessman and was going to Pakistan to buy stationery and printers. At that point I feared I would be arrested which would have almost certainly meant I would be killed.
“I crossed the border and Australian High Commission picked me up. The rest of my family were able to cross the border four days later on the 23rd. The High Commission sent a vehicle to pick them up also – they were very supportive, beyond our expectations.
After a few weeks in Pakistan, barely able to believe their good fortune, Ahmed and his family reached Darwin and quarantined for two weeks before arriving in Melbourne on December 12.
“We were greeted and supported by AMES Australia and since arriving here the local people have been very welcoming,’ Ahmed said.
Ahmed and his family are among around 3000 Afghans to have arrived in Melbourne since the Taliban took Kabul amid dramatic scenes.
When they moved into a five bedroom house in Tarneit, in Melbourne’s west, they became the 500th Afghan family to be settled in their own home since the evacuees began arriving in September.
“The house is good and the neighbours are friendly and have welcomed us. We cannot believe the support and kindness we have received,” Ahmed said.
“We have received very good support from the start. One daughter starts school on Monday and two more of my daughters are starting English lessons,” he said.
“I have three sons who have finished high school, so we are looking at enrolling them in colleges.
“My priority is to settle my family. I want to get my kids into school and college because I want my kids to be assets to this country. Then I will look for a job.
“I want my kids to get a good education. Who knows, maybe one day they will help to rebuild Afghanistan.
“Before I joined the Afghan government, I worked for a foreign NGO working in Afghanistan as an HR manager.
“I’ve already sent my CV to my contacts in Australia. I don’t want to just get money from Centrelink. I want to work and get some income. Centrelink is a wonderful initial support, but if you can work you should support yourself and your family,” Ahmed said.
He said his family feel safe in Australia and are looking forward to the future.
“We feel very safe here. In Afghanistan people face many dangers and restrictions. And most parents are in fear that their kids will be kidnapped or come to harm,” Ahmed said.
“There are fundamentalists and different groups who are dangerous. We want to thank the Australian people and government and AMES. We have received great support starting from the High Commission Islamabad all the way to here in our own house,” he said.
Ahmed says he is worried about family still Afghanistan where his brothers, sisters and a step mother remain.
And he is haunted by what happened in Afghanistan.
“The Taliban are saying that people working with the former government are spies. We were not, we were just trying to build our country with better systems and procedures,’ Ahmed said.
“We were all working for the future of Afghanistan. But after 20 years and billions of dollars spent, we now have same regime that was so destructive before.
“And about 50,000 police were killed in the fight with the Taliban after 20 years.
“Now there is a huge humanitarian crisis in my country. People, including women and children, are starving and schools are closed. Girls have lost the human rights that were gained over 20 years. It makes me sad and angry,” Ahmed said.