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Irish woman in Kabul 'confident' she will be able to leave city within next two days

Aoife MacManus, who has been in Kabul for two years working in the primary education sector, said the last 36 hours have been “very hectic”.

LAST UPDATE | Aug 17th 2021, 11:22 AM

2.61741171 Aoife MacManus PA PA

AN IRISH WOMAN currently in Kabul has said she believes she will be be “on a plane and having a pint of Guinness in Ashbourne” within the next few days.

Aoife MacManus, originally from the Meath town, has been in the Afghan city for two years working in the primary education sector. She is one of the small number of Irish citizens still in Afghanistan and trying to flee from the Taliban.

MacManus told the PA news agency yesterday that there is a “sense of panic and fear all over the city”. 

“This last 24 hours has been so crazy, I don’t know how many places I’ve been.”

Speaking to RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland, MacManus said she is now in a relatively calm location after a “very hectic 36 hours” moving to different locations for safety purposes. 

“I’ve been in some hairy situations in the last 24 hours, but feeling safe enough right now,” she said. 

“When the Taliban were entering the city and they declared a curfew the other evening, we found out at about 7.30.

“We were told the curfew was happening between 8 and 9. We were all mobilised to leave where we were to move as close as we could to a secure compound near the airport and moved and within that hour of the news that this would happen and leaving, we passed four checkpoints on our way to the next place and they were already mixed Taliban and police working together at the checkpoints.”

She said her group was waved on through these checkpoints. She described passing by scenes of hordes of people waiting outside Kabul airport. 

“By the time we reached near the airport there were many thousands of displaced people with their families, with their luggage.

We got stuck in the middle of those in our convoy of four cars. There was panic but there wasn’t angry panic, people were just waiting to try and get into the airport, to try and leave with these special visas that the Americans are promising, that the British are promising.

“Instead of there being a chaos there, there was a calm where people actually physically lifted a car that had been abandoned from in front of us so that we could get where we were going.”

She said the crowd was less calm within a matter of hours and that the “city had changed” when she moved location again last night. 

“All of the checkpoints were Taliban,. The police cars were full of Taliban. So yeah, it has been quite an adventure.” 

The Taliban have declared an “amnesty” across the country and urged women to join their government. 

MacManus said “nobody really believes” this “charm offensive” from the Taliban in its recent comments towards women given their treatment the last time they were in control of Afghanistan. 

Under Taliban rule, women were mostly denied education and employment.

Full face coverings became mandatory in public and women could not leave home without a male companion. 

Public floggings and executions of men and women, including stoning for adultery, were carried out in city squares and stadiums. 

“I feel confident that there’s a way out within the next maybe 24/48 hours. Probably not today. But even the logistics of getting from where I am to where a military flight would go from might not work today, but it should work tomorrow,” MacManus said.

We would have been able to leave earlier if it hadn’t been for this situation in the airport. As soon as the airport is cleared, as soon as things are up and running, I have every faith that I will be on a plane and having a pint of Guinness in Ashbourne in a few days.

There were dramatic scenes yesterday at Kabul Airport as Afghans rushed onto the tarmac of the capital’s airport as thousands tried to escape the country.

MacManus told PA yesterday that uncertainty was driving some of the fears: “There is a sense of panic and fear all over the city. It’s the fear of the worst expectations.”

She described the scenes as her and her colleagues left their work compound on Sunday: “We were all crying. Everybody was crying because of the expectations of what things are going to be like.”

“All the work we’ve put into education, that it might all be for nothing.”

In recent months, as the situation worsened across the country, she had been in contact with the Irish embassy in Abu Dhabi and that contact has intensified in recent days as the Taliban drew closer to the Afghan capital.

MacManus is also in contact with her family back in Ireland.

She added: “They’re really worried. They’ve been worried for the last couple of weeks.

“I have people lighting candles and saying Mass and all kinds of things. What can I say? I’m not in a normal situation.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said his department is working to get 15 Irish nationals out of Afghanistan.

The minister said his department has been helping Irish nationals evacuate on commercial flights, but they have been cancelled.

There is now an effort to find alternative routes out for nationals and foreigners by working with other EU countries, the UK and the US.

MacManus said she had always dressed carefully in the city but the arrival of the Taliban makes thinking about her attire much more important.

“I’ve dressed conservatively here since the start,” she said. “Today, my scarf is tighter.”

Additional reporting by Orla Dwyer. 

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