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Members of the Taliban movement on the runway at Kabul Airport Alamy Stock Photo
Refugee Protection

Relocating from Afghanistan: 'People have made us feel at home. I can see where my future is'

Manizha worked as a dentist in Afghanistan prior to the Taliban takeover in August 2021.

“PEOPLE IN IRELAND have made us feel at home. A few months ago I was not even thinking that I was going to be alive.”

As of December, 500 visa waiver letters had been granted to at-risk Afghans through the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP) following the Taliban takeover of Kabul in August. 

It was also announced in December that 500 Afghans will be granted temporary residence through the Afghan Admissions Programme, with priority being granted to the most vulnerable, like the elderly, women, girls and people with disabilities.

Manizha, who worked as a dentist and university lecturer in Afghanistan until August 2021, is one of those who secured a visa waiver, along with her husband and daughter.

After the Taliban regained control in Afghanistan last August, Manizha’s life was flipped upside down. She was no longer welcome to work at the university.

As they regained control in Afghanistan last year, the Taliban promised a new era of peace. However, it soon became apparent that those promises were not ringing true.

The rights of Afghans – particularly women and girls – have been increasingly curtailed since the Taliban returned to power after ousting the US-backed government.

Desperate for international recognition to unlock frozen assets, the Taliban have largely refrained from issuing national policies that provoke outrage abroad.

Nonetheless, provincial officials have issued guidelines and edicts based on local interpretations of Islamic law and Afghan custom that have curbed women’s freedoms.

Girls in most provinces have not been allowed to return to secondary school, public universities are shuttered, and women have been banned from most public sector jobs.

Women must also be accompanied on long journeys by a close male relative, while posters have gone up in Kabul ordering them to cover up – illustrated by the all-covering burqa.

“The Taliban had a lot of problems with women working, especially with women who have studied abroad, who have broad minds,” Manizha told The Journal.

“I’m somebody who has studied abroad … a lot of my students liked me, I have many friends and a lot of people in the society know me. I think I was seen as a threat,” she said.

“[The Taliban] contacted me many times and told me that I should be quiet, just take one side … and I should not say something or present my views or opinions.”

These threats drove Manizha, her husband and her daughter into hiding for their own safety.

She began to look for a way out of the country as she said she “didn’t know what the future had for us”.

Manizha was then identified as a high-profile woman at risk by international human rights organisations in Afghanistan trying to organise evacuations for people at risk. 

Her details were provided to Nasc, the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre in Ireland, who then provided them to the Irish Refugee Protection Programme for consideration for a humanitarian visa, which was granted. 

Nasc worked with the IRPP to help evacuate and resettle 25 Afghan nationals to Ireland. 

Nasc CEO Fiona Finn said that the Centre “coordinated the support on the ground in Cork from individuals and groups who were eager to respond to the emergency situation and provide support to Manizha and the other evacuees”. 

“We then worked with the IRPP and the Department of Foreign Affairs and later the EU to organise a safe route out of Afghanistan for Manizha and her family,” Finn said. 

She said that “movement out of Afghanistan was really dangerous from August onwards, so the help of the DFA and the EU here was absolutely essential”. 

Manizha said she “couldn’t believe it” when she was selected for the IRPP “because we had been in pain for so many months and in such shock”.

“I wasn’t even sure that there was value left for any women anywhere in the world, because back home it was like we don’t exist anymore,” she said.

The family relocated to Ireland in December.

They are currently living in temporary accommodation loaned by a volunteer but they are soon due to move to long-term private rented accommodation.

“From the moment we entered Ireland everyone has been really, really kind and cooperative and helpful … You wouldn’t believe how amazing and cooperative people are. Everybody has been so helpful,” she said.

Manizha said that a few months ago, she didn’t think she would be alive right now, but added that “people in Ireland have made us feel at home”. 

“Now, I have hope that my daughter can someday be a doctor here or someday can be a dentist or a dancer or a singer or anything that she wants to be.”

Once her documentation has been processed, Manizha will be permitted to work in Ireland.

She has already met with dentists working here and has been in contact with the Irish Dental Council. She will need to take a number of exams, but once passed, she will be certified to work as a dentist in Ireland.

“Now, I can see where my future is. I can see what the steps are that I need to take in order to become a certified dentist in Ireland, so that’s pretty amazing,” she said.

The Journal agreed with Manizha not to include her surname in this article.

Finn said the women relocated to Ireland, and their families, “are now living in supportive communities across Munster”. 

“Several are already working and others are planning how to register their medical qualifications in Ireland,” Finn said.

“It’s been incredible to see the phenomenal response from ordinary Irish people who have opened their hearts and homes to these women.”

Humanitarian crisis

Afghanistan’s humanitarian situation has rapidly deteriorated since the group returned to power in August 2021, when international aid came to a sudden halt, worsening the plight of millions of people already suffering from hunger after several severe droughts.

Hunger now threatens 23 million Afghans – or 55% of the population – according to the UN, which says it needs $5 billion this year to address the crisis.

“People are very hungry, the money isn’t present,” Manizha said.

“I was talking to one of my male colleagues the other day who is running a very successful dentistry business back in our hometown, but he said that there aren’t many patients anymore,” she said.

A Taliban delegation travelled to Oslo, Norway last week for talks focused on humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. This is the group’s first visit to Europe since returning to power.

The Taliban are seeking international recognition and financial aid. 

Returning to the issues facing women in Afghanistan at present, Manizha said she is still in touch with many of her old students, many of whom have had to leave their education.

“I had students who are really, really amazing girls. They were waiting for just a few more months to finish dental school and enter the internship programme so they can be dentists,” she said.

“They were really looking forward to a bright future but now they are all sitting at home.”

When asked whether she is hopeful at all for the future of Afghanistan, Manizha said: “To be honest, no I’m not hopeful at all.”

Includes reporting by © AFP 2022