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Aoife MacManus

'A strange and heavy feeling' for Aoife MacManus as friends and colleagues remain in Kabul

The Irish woman flew from Afghanistan to Pakistan yesterday and will return to Ireland in the next few days.

AOIFE MACMANUS, AN Irish woman evacuated from Afghanistan, experienced a “strange and heavy feeling” to know friends and colleagues were still in the country.

After flying out of Kabul yesterday morning to neighbouring Pakistan, she plans to spend a couple of nights in Islamabad and return to Ireland on Sunday or Monday.

She flew out from the capital along with two other Irish citizens, with at least another 36 still waiting to leave the country. 

Speaking to RTÉ Radio One’s This Morning, MacManus described her departure from Afghanistan, where she had worked in education for two years. 

“On Wednesday evening, we got the okay to go to the airport,” she said.

“The issue at the moment isn’t that there are no flights available. I had been offered the opportunity of several flights through the Department of Foreign Affairs, through different countries.”

However, the problem she and others faced was travelling to the gates of the airport and being able to access the gates, where large crowds are seeking to enter the airport.

“We had an escort, which is what’s happening at the moment for most NGOs and UN organisations – it would be the equivalent of a police escort to the airport, but as it’s the Taliban who are working with police now, it’s a Taliban escort, dramatic as it sounds – to help us to get as far as the airport,” she said.

The Taliban escort “cleared traffic and brought us as close to the gates of the airport as possible”.

“There are thousands of Afghan people trying to also leave, they’re trying to make their way with their half-finished visa processes or whatever IDs that they have, and their families, trying to get in the military side of the airport to leave.”

After reaching the gate, the Irish citizens were met by the US Marines and processed inside the airport.

“When we got through the gates and into the actual processing area with everybody else, there were thousands of people standing and sitting around waiting to be seen, waiting for their military flights to come in to bring them to the US or bring them to UK or wherever they’re going.

It was quite quite a scene. I’m still hearing all the gunshots from outside the airport of people trying to push their way in from somewhere else and the gunshots would have been into the air to control the crowd.

“We had to stay the night. I think that everybody slept out of exhaustion but with one eye open hoping that everything would still go well until the morning.”

The flight took off at dawn and brought the Irish citizens to Pakistan.

“I watched the sun come over the mountains and looked outside the window as we took off over Kabul and took off over the city that I’ve watched as I’ve departed quite a few times at this point, always knowing I was coming back.”

It was a very strange and heavy feeling to think that so many colleagues that I work with, so many friends, are there and won’t have the opportunity to leave, at least anytime soon, and just wondering what’s next for them.

“Looking down at the city, even though you can’t see any difference, to the naked eye, there is no difference – but it’s so different this week than it was when I left for a holiday two months ago. It’s such a different city.”

Originally from Ashbourne in Co Meath, MacManus has worked in Kabul for the last two years in the primary education sector.

She said she has to “stay positive” about the future of friends and colleagues still in the city and that “the hope is that things will settle”.

“Already when we were leaving the city, things were much calmer than they had been in the previous days,” she said.

“[The hope is that] things will find some kind of middle ground where education can go ahead, where some of normal life can go ahead, albeit adjusted, maybe more conservative, but that my friends and colleagues won’t be in any harm and hopefully their lives won’t be much more difficult than they are now.”

After taking over the country on Sunday, the Taliban promised it would respect women’s rights.

However, people on the ground and humanitarians say the declaration cannot be trusted.

Thousands of Afghans are trying to leave the country after the insurgents’ victory at the weekend, while foreign militaries organise evacuation flights for citizens from other countries.

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