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Finnish citizen, former asylum seeker trapped in Afghanistan "hell"

"If the Taliban stay here and form the next government, other countries will pay the price for it. That has happened before," the young man said.

Joukko ihmisiä seisoo betonimuurin edessä. Muurille on kiivennyt ihmisiä. Yksi mies nostaa lasta muurin yli.
Members of the Taliban and a concrete wall keeping people from entering Kabul's civilian airport on Monday. Image: EPA
Yle News

Abdul* is one of at least 20 Finnish nationals who are trapped in Afghanistan amid a takeover of the country by the Taliban militant group.

Abdul first arrived in Finland as an underage asylum seeker from Afghanistan in 2015, eventually going on to gaining Finnish citizenship.

Now in his 20s, he returned to his home country a few weeks ago to help his family move to the capital, Kabul, due to the deteriorating security situation in their hometown.

With help from the United States military, 18 Finnish citizens were airlifted from Afghanistan early Monday morning, but Abdul was not among that group.

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (Green) told Yle on Monday evening that it still could take days to repatriate the Finnish citizens who were still in Afghanistan.

Abdul told Yle that the Taliban was guarding the gates at Kabul airport and was unable to enter the facility.

His description of the chaotic scene of throngs of people at the airport on Monday, trying to find a way out of the country, was similar to video footage shown on news outlets.

Abdul estimated there were 10-15,000 people struggling to enter the airport's guarded gates, including families, men, women and children, with some trying to scale the walls.

Story continues after photo.

Kaksi Taliban-taistelijaa seisoo auton lavalla. Lavalle on asetettu myös konekivääri. Ympärillä seisoo ihmisiä. Taustalla näkyy lentokentän kyltti.
Taliban stands guard outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport as people walk to the airport to flee the country after rumors that foreign countries are evacuating people even without visas, in Kabul, Afghanistan, 16 August 2021. Image: EPA

"You can't get into the airport. The Taliban fired into the air as people tried to break through the gate. People were injured. Either they were caught in the crowd or shot," Abdul explained.

"Walking through the airport gates is not possible. And we cannot tell the Taliban that we're Finnish citizens," he said, adding that the militant group's forces were now driving vehicles on patrols that were previously only used by the Afghan army and police.

When he spoke with Yle at about 5pm on Monday, Abdul had already left the airport area to wait for further instructions from Finnish authorities. But by that time he had not heard anything and does not know when he will be able to leave the country — or how.

Wants help to evacuate relatives

Arriving in Finland as an underage asylum seeker in 2015, Abdul attended school, got a job and eventually became a citizen. He said he went back to Afghanistan a few weeks ago despite the inherent risks involved because he hadn't seen his relatives in the country in six years.

Abdul contacted the Ministry for Foreign Affairs to ask whether he could bring family members along during his eventual evacuation.

"It's OK if they can't stay in Finland, just as long as they can get out of this hell, even temporarily, then the [Afghanistan] situation could be re-examined," he explained.

However, he had not yet heard back from the ministry by Monday evening.

Story continues after photo.

Folk köar för att ta ut sina pengar från banken i Kabul. 15.8.2021
People queue to withdraw money at a Kabul bank on 15 August, 2021, as Taliban forces seized power in the capital city. Image: STELLA Pictures / ddp

Abdul described the mood among Kabul residents as "fearful" and that no one was protecting normal people, saying that locals were also scared that the situation would prompt criminal activity on the streets.

He said all of the city's schools were closed and that women did not dare to go outdoors, at least on their own, saying there were many long-bearded, gun-toting Taliban militants on the streets.

"I'd say I've seen thousands of [Taliban members]. And the question is, how did so many of them appear overnight? I wondered if they were here before or if they just arrived," he explained.

The actual situation was difficult to interpret, he said, because it was unclear with any certainty whether all the men who claimed to be members of the Taliban in the city were actually representatives of the extremist group or whether they only looked the part.

Taliban 'darkness'

Story continues after photo.

Maan pohjoisista osista Talibania paenneita perheitä leiriytyneenä puistoon Kabulissa, Afganistanissa 14. elokuuta 2021
Taliban militants forced families in northern parts of Afghanistan to flee their homes and live in tents. Image: Hedayatullah Amid / EPA


Abdul pondered the idea that some of the Taliban members may include non-Afghan members.

"Outside the airport, a person from our group went to talk with a Taliban member. My friend recognised the individual as Iranian. There are also rumours that members of the Pakistani Taliban were also being seen here," he said.

Abdul said he wanted to convey a message that he hoped the international community, including the UN and EU countries would do something about the perilous situation facing Afghanistan's civilian population.

"I hope they don't leave these innocent people, girls, women and civilians in this darkness," he told Yle.

Although the Taliban has sought to soften its public image, Abdul said he doubted the group has actually changed its ideology and also does not believe that the Taliban would lead the nation towards democracy or create an egalitarian society.

"This time it is different, but the Taliban movement is the same ideology as before. The status and rights of women and minorities are at stake in particular. If the Taliban stay here and form the next government, other countries will pay the price for it. That has happened before," Abdul said.

*Abdul's real name was not used in this article for security reasons.

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