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    NewsLatin AmericaFrom Afghanistan to Uruguay: Taiba Jafari's odyssey to escape the Taliban

    From Afghanistan to Uruguay: Taiba Jafari’s odyssey to escape the Taliban

    (CNN Spanish) — “It’s a moment I’ll never forget.” Taiba Jafari pauses to stare into space and wipe his eyes. It was August 15, 2021: the day everything changed in Afghanistan. He was on his way to his office at the Afghan Ministry of Public Health in Kabul. The vehicle was not moving forward, trapped in the middle of a huge traffic jam. “What’s going on?” He wondered and asked the official driver, who started calling his colleagues to find out. “Something serious is happening,” he whispered to her right away.

    “I didn’t imagine something so serious,” she recalls today, interviewed by CNN at the hotel in downtown Montevideo where the UN Refugee Agency is hosting her, her husband Ali Aqa Ahmadi and their three-year-old son Sina. .

    Jafari says that he knew that the Taliban movement had taken several provinces, but that nothing indicated that they could reach Kabul so quickly.

    They finally reached the gates of the ministry, where they were intercepted by a security officer with a clear directive: the Taliban are already in Kabul and all officials have to leave the ministry.

    Jafari stood in front of the door, her mouth hanging open, not knowing what to do. She until she remembered that in her office on the third floor were her laptop and hundreds of documents from her work and from the entire division on gender violence. And she also says that she remembered a warning she had received months before from the UN: “Those databases should never fall into the hands of the Taliban movement.”

    Taiba Jafari, former Director of Gender at the Afghan Ministry of Health. (Credit: official ministry photo, prior to the Taliban takeover)

    “If they find those documents, they are going to kill us, and all those people are in danger,” he pleaded with his driver. “I was very scared, but he told me: ‘Don’t worry, I’ll go with you.’ They went up to the empty office, rummaged through drawers and shelves, and took the documents on the operations against virginity tests and the databases with more than 100,000 cases of gender violence registered during seven years in Afghanistan, says Jafari.

    Before leaving, Jafari saw a plaque on the table with her name and her position: “Gender Director”. He decided to take her too, so as not to leave traces.

    A long fight against violence against women

    Jafari says she started working on gender issues in Afghanistan in 2013, while she had not yet finished her law and political science degree at Kabul University, where she met her husband, and before she completed her master’s degree in law in Iran. She points out that her positions of real responsibility were from 2018 when, at the age of 28, she became the coordinator of the gender-based violence program in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and, later, from 2020, when she was appointed gender director of the Ministry of Public Health. She still has her credential when she held that position.

    One of Taiba Jafari’s fights was against “virginity tests” that were applied to women without consent in Afghanistan.

    In those positions, he adds, one of his great battles was against gender violence. “We gave support (to the victims) through family protection centers that we set up in 25 (of the 34) provinces that Afghanistan has,” he explains. Most of these centers were in hospitals, “because the women arrived injured” and it was then that they were given medical and psychological help, as well as legal help, he explains.

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    Jafari says that he also participated in the drafting of new laws to prohibit from child marriage to the so-called “anti-virginity tests”. He explains it like this: “In Afghanistan, when a woman was raped, it was common for the health services to perform, with or without her consent, a test to see if that woman was a virgin or not, supposedly to prove the rape”. She and her team developed a protocol to prohibit this test unless it had the consent of the victim and judicial authorization.

    This regulation made it clear that the test itself implied a violation of human rights and also of Islam. But the law was not enough, he explains. Everyone involved had to be trained in this new ethical, religious and legal perspective, after decades of war and abuse of women inherited from the Taliban theocratic regime that had ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s. the territory generating awareness.

    Her husband helped her indirectly in some of these objectives, working for different non-governmental organizations on projects that sought the same thing: to achieve equality between men and women. “We did graffiti, interventions in various cities with the message that women and men are equal, or encouraging women to study,” says Ahmadi.

    The fear

    “We collected all the files and equipment with my driver and ran out of the ministry,” Jafari continues. There he begins another chapter in his story, perhaps the most difficult of all.

    The woman and her husband had agreed to meet at home, to evaluate their options from there. A journey that would normally take between 20 and 30 minutes ended up taking more than three hours. The sea of ​​vehicles grew. The streets of Kabul were in chaos.

    Her husband, meanwhile, was walking back after unsuccessfully trying to get a visa at the Iranian embassy, ​​which had already been closed until further notice.

    They were joined at the house by Jafari’s brother, who worked with Afghanistan’s then second vice president, Sarwar Danish, bringing the latest information: “It’s all over.” She was then 30 years old, her one-year-old son, Sina, and very scared.

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    Jafari says that he knew that from that moment on his head had a price. “Due to the sensitivity of my services and my trips to the provinces, I received several specific threats,” he says, showing proof of that.

    “Until I changed my phone number, I received many calls from the Taliban and from several convicted of gender violence who were Taliban. People who were in prison and had been released, ”he explains, still with a fearful face.

    The calls went to action. She says that in September of last year they went to look for her at her house and that Ahmadi’s sister was able to record that moment through a crack. The video shows how the Taliban go through the house and, speaking in Pashto, communicate the address by radio or mobile. Jafari and his family had already escaped from there. The digital documents were safe, on her computer. The paper files had already been burned.

    The danger for them had another seasoning: the family belongs to the Hazara ethnic group, a Shiite Muslim community, Persian-speaking and descendants of the Mongols. That community has been persecuted by both the ISIS terrorist group and the Taliban movement and, according to Jafari and Ali, have been “victims of a true genocide.”

    The escape

    They left their house in Kabul almost wearing nothing. The first destination was the house of Jafari’s parents. From there to Ghazni, in the southeast of the country, where they found refuge with Ahmad’s paternal family, waiting for visas to Pakistan for which they recall that they were illegally charged US$3,000.

    Then a bus allowed them to reach the border, through the city of Jalalabad. From there to Peshawar and Islamabad, where they believed they could board a flight to Madrid.

    But Madrid, with whom the efforts to obtain visas had begun, never responded to their requests again, although they sent more than 12 emails, Ahmadi tells in Spanish. There he learned the language in his undergraduate studies in Spanish Literature at the University of Kabul, where, in addition to meeting Jafari, he met Professor Javier del Rey Morató, a Spanish-Uruguayan academic who gave him classes. A link that was key in this story.

    They were in Pakistan from April 2022 until they were finally able to escape, on December 28 of that year, heading to Uruguay. During those nine months they lived with their hearts in their mouths. “We couldn’t go back to Afghanistan, but we couldn’t stay in Pakistan either,” Jafari explains.

    They carried out procedures to go wherever possible: Australia, Italy, the United States, Canada, Germany, as well as Spain… all unsuccessful. They did not receive an answer or they were delayed, they say.

    When their savings and hopes were running out, a light appeared at the end of the tunnel. The one who turned it on was Professor Del Rey, who accompanied them from a distance until he found the then Uruguayan Vice Foreign Minister Carolina Ache.

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    the uruguayan way

    One afternoon in August 2021, Ache answered his cell phone. On the other side was Del Rey, who was calling her from Spain. In that conversation, she told him about the adventures of her friends, until she burst into tears, recalls Ache. “This professor had a Uruguayan family and ancestry and had heard statements by President Luis Lacalle Pou about the historical vocation of Uruguay to have open arms for people who have to flee their homeland as was the case with them. He requested that Uruguay give refuge to that family”, says the former vice chancellor.

    Shocked by the call, Ache decided to shoulder the task of saving this family and appealed to an international refugee resettlement program (CRISP).

    Meanwhile, Ahmadi and Jafari were counting down the days, knowing that the Pakistani authorities had given them exactly until the end of the year to get out of there or else face the possibility of imprisonment or deportation.

    A week before the deadline, they received the tickets and visas for Uruguay. On December 28, 2022, the plane took off for a long trip with two stops to Montevideo.

    Jafari had mixed feelings: “When we took off I was happy and at the same time very sad about my country and my people and my dream of always living in Afghanistan.”

    “It’s called humanity”

    It is January in the Punta Colorada resort, in eastern Uruguay. Among the strong green ocean waves, a man struggles to stay upright and to protect his child from the current, while the mother laughs and takes photos with her cell phone.

    They are Jafari, Ahmadi and Sina. They are the first Afghan family to come to live in Uruguay, according to the civil registry. And it is the first time that this family enjoys an ocean beach.

    Sina is happy. As soon as they got off the plane, while they were driving along the Montevideo boulevard, all the little boy said was “beach, beach, I want to go there!” Jafari says.

    Dressed in pants and a long-sleeved shirt, this woman still can’t believe how a strange connection of people allowed them to reach this distant country, the antipodes of hers and of which she had only heard its name at school. “It may be that it was God’s will.” “It’s a human connection,” Ahmadi says, “otherwise it would seem impossible that we have met.” “That is called humanity,” concludes the former Afghan official.

    They are happy, but they do not forget what they left behind. “Sometimes I think: what is happening? What will happen to our people? (…) We tried it in Afghanistan. We really tried. But now we have nothing. We have to start from scratch,” he says, unable to control his tears.


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