Australians with family in Afghanistan tell of despair, survivor guilt

Australians with families in Afghanistan have shared their despair and anger at the unfolding chaos in Kabul, saying they feel powerless as they watch on.

As the Taliban took control of the country with lightning speed, members of the Afghan diaspora have been watching on with the rest of the world, hanging on to every update and attempting to comfort their friends and family in Kabul.

“Honestly, I just feel numb,” said Huma Mia, a grandmother, and migrant who arrived in Australia in the 90s. She said her sister, brother, and cousins all live in Kabul and have been in hiding for four days.

“They’re just hiding in their own homes, like hostages. They can’t go anywhere. They won’t leave even for basic things, like water, milk, or bread. My cousin said everybody is just wondering when they’re going to die. And how they’re going to die.

“I speak with my sister, and I just try and give her hope, I tell her, ‘everything will be all right, don’t be so afraid’. Just things to make her a little calm, and give her some hope.

“But I really don’t know, I’m just lost.”

Mia said the speed of the Taliban’s campaign had taken her family by surprise, and that they now lived in a constant state of paranoia and fear.

We have only one hope, and that is in praying

Huma Mia, Afghan migrant in Australia
“It’s taken everybody by surprise. Nobody knew this was going to happen, how quickly things would change.

“I just pray for the best. Because we’ve lost trust with the world, with the superpowers. Even with Australia, even with our government. They abandoned Afghanistan.”

Mia said her family were desperate to leave the country, but felt they had nowhere to go, with borders around the world closed and with Kabul’s airport in disarray.

“They wish to leave, but where will they go? All the borders are closed, and they can’t go anywhere. But they wish they could leave.

“We have only one hope, and that is in praying.”

Sahar Ansari is a student, paralegal and community advocate, and said she struggled to describe the pain her family and community were going through.

“It’s indescribable, these feelings of heartbreak, anguish, disappointment, and anger. You can’t really pin it down to one,” she said.

“We’re watching it unfold and we’re losing sleep. I get updates every second of my day, and we watch it live on BBC or Al Jazeera.

Survivors’ guilt [is] really eating at a lot of us. Why are they suffering and not us?

Sahar Ansari, Afghan student in Australia
“In my house, it’s extremely sombre, you can just feel the heaviness in the air. When you speak about it, you just feel like you’re about to cry. Last Friday, I just couldn’t take it anymore, I just cried after hearing one of the cities had fallen.”

Ansari said there was a sense of “survivors’ guilt” in her community, of a recognition of their privilege in being away from the chaos, but guilt at their relative safety.

“We just feel so helpless, and we feel like we can’t do anything, like we’re privileged, in that way. But I think that’s survivors’ guilt and it’s really eating at a lot of us. Why are they suffering and not us?”

Ansari said many in her community were disappointed at the reaction of the Australian government, saying developments in Afghanistan were inevitable to some degree, and that more should be done to support citizens stuck there.

“We all anticipated, to be honest, when we saw that American troops would withdraw because Afghanistan was not at any point at a point of stability.

“And it’s absolutely a disappointment for us to see our government not stepping up and giving that humanitarian assistance. The community feels that Australia needs to step up to their moral obligations and do something about the crisis.”

She said members of her community had been organising to send letters to their local MPs, imploring them to lobby to accept more refugees from Afghanistan.

“We’re waiting on the government to step up and do something because we obviously don’t have the capacity to do something ourselves.”

I think that dream is gone for my generation

Afghan worker in Australia
A worker in-migration from the Afghan diaspora, who wished to remain anonymous, said the refugees and migrants from Afghanistan they worked with felt they were in an impossible situation.

“I think they feel helpless and very frustrated,’’ the worker said. “They are afraid because in a sense they can’t go back because they don’t have a passport, and they aren’t provided that protection.

“We help a lot of people who had arrived on boats, from 2010 onwards, and many are still waiting on their citizenship. Then there are also a group of people who are on protection visas, shared visas, or bridging visas. They are all very concerned that they may be deported back.

“They’re very frightened of the outcome. They feel they have no alternative, they have nowhere to go, and they can’t bring their family here. And a lot of these clients that we do see are from ethnic minorities who are very vulnerable.”

The worker also has relatives stuck in Afghanistan and said they were horrified watching the chaos unfold.

“We feel a sense of helplessness that we are not able to do anything for the people of Afghanistan at the moment. We feel a sense of guilt that we are the ones who survived. Unfortunately, we feel a lot of guilt, a lot of helplessness.

“I really did envision myself going back to Afghanistan in a few years’ time and perhaps working for an NGO there, or perhaps doing anything that I can to be able to support the young people and women and anyone vulnerable.

“But unfortunately, I think that dream is gone for my generation.”

SOURCE: Mostafa Rachwani … THE GUARDIAN

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