An Afghan Christian convert family, who fled to India from Afghanistan shortly before the Taliban seized power in the country, say their escape from the country seems like a miracle.
Narrating their ordeal to a Christian persecution watchdog, the family of four shared how they had rushed to a plane flying out of Afghanistan the day after the Taliban took control in mid-August.
Unable to board, the family decided it was too dangerous to return to their home.
“Our neighbors knew about our belief, and it was extremely dangerous to go back, so we changed our place,” Zakariya, 26, told the watchdog. “We thought that if they expose us to Taliban, they will kill us.”
Zakariya, his sister and his mother had arrived at the Kabul airport at 6am, he told the watchdog by phone from a refugee camp in the United Arab Emirates.
“Every minute our hearts were pounding,” Zakariya said. “We stayed at the airport beyond noon to board our flight for India, but we were informed that all flights were cancelled and that we should go back home. We were stuck with fear and uncertainty at the news.”
Renting a room instead of returning home, he stopped using his phone to keep the Taliban from tracking him, he said. After several days, Christian friends managed to make arrangements for them to take a flight to the UAE – if they could get past Taliban security checks.
“I cannot express the terror and fear we felt for our lives each day after the Taliban took over,” Zakariya said. “Senior officials spoke to the Taliban about all the people who were about to leave, including us – they had some sort of agreement with the Taliban.”
The Taliban had a list of names of people who were to board their flight, he said.
“While we were waiting to board, Taliban men came searching for someone whom they wanted to stop from boarding,” Zakariya added. “We were so scared wondering if it was us that they were looking for. There was so much fear and uncertainty until the airplane took off that we felt that the Taliban would come and say, ‘Your flight is cancelled and you have to get down and go back home.’”
Nearly three months after arriving in Abu Dhabi, Zakariya said their escape from Afghanistan seems like a miracle.
UAE authorities have yet to begin the process of their application for asylum, however, and their uncertain future, including prospects for reuniting with another sister in India, are wearing them down. His 62-year-old mother is growing impatient, Zakariya said.
“While my sister is still in India, my mother has gone into depression worrying about her,” he said. “She is alone in India, and day-after-day we are waiting to see that our paperwork would progress and that we would be sent to the US, and somehow we would reunite with my sister in the US.”
Zakariya’s sister, Esin (name changed for security reasons), received a visa extension in October to remain in India until Nov. 21, and she has since received another extension until mid-January 2022. She has applied for refugee status with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office in Delhi.
Esin said that after five months in India, her future is very much uncertain.
“I am very anxious now,” she told the watchdog. “I am longing to be reunited with my mother and siblings. I do not know how and when this will be possible. If my mother and siblings are relocated to the US, there is hope for us to be reunited.”
Risks of danger for converts in Afghanistan are so high that she and her mother and brother only three years ago revealed to each other that they had become Christians, as they feared violent backlash from other relatives and neighbors.
Zakariya said he and his mother are grateful to those who helped them leave Afghanistan. Though their only possessions are some clothes and passports, returning to their country would be disastrous, he said.