How a ‘ragtag group’ helped 86 Afghan athletes, officials and family members flee the Taliban

In a written statement to the Guardian, one of the refugees, Iman Ghalib, says she saw Taliban helpers holding her five-year-old daughter Muntasir and chasing away other children How a ‘ragtag group’ helped 86…

How a 'ragtag group' helped 86 Afghan athletes, officials and family members flee the Taliban

In a written statement to the Guardian, one of the refugees, Iman Ghalib, says she saw Taliban helpers holding her five-year-old daughter Muntasir and chasing away other children

How a ‘ragtag group’ helped 86 Afghan athletes, officials and family members flee the Taliban

Iman Ghalib was running for the first time with her 5-year-old daughter Muntasir when a group of Taliban fighters came up alongside her.

At the time, Ghalib, 45, and Muntasir, whose last name has been withheld, were on their way to join an athletics competition in the central city of Ghazni, a short hop from Kabul, in a group of 86 refugees who had just safely crossed from Pakistan.

Ghalib describes what happened next in her written statement, one of five written by five refugee sports athletes who have now fled Afghanistan:

On the second day of our journey, we reached the Majuli bridge in Pakistan and we crossed back over land. After crossing the Majuli bridge, we sat in a big truck truck on the highway. Later, we went to a villa to rest for a while. As a security guard for the village said, ‘Go out back and meet this person and that person’ and we were on our way back.

I saw a few men and they were around one to two meters away from us. At the time, I was in the back of the truck truck with my daughter Muntasir and I suddenly got frightened and I shouted ‘The Taliban, the Taliban’. So I fled [from the town of] Badhshahid while my daughter was in the truck truck.

I went to the village where I stayed in a little shelter-like place. In the night, I heard that my daughter and mother were no longer with me. Later, I saw my father and my younger brother, I’m the sister of the father of the brothers.

I wasn’t even able to see them in the mirror. I hadn’t eaten for one day and I was with my father. The next day, my father said that the family members that had left three days before him have returned. He said that he had left two or three men in his home. He said that ‘Some people have left the Taliban and said that they wanted to visit’ his home. My father went into the house and found out that the Taliban guys had succeeded in sending them back and that I had left. He didn’t go in any further details.

I lost hope when I didn’t see my daughter in the light. I lost all hope. That made me think that I couldn’t go back and could not live in my own country anymore. As the end came, I started feeling very bad inside and I want to ask people to rescue me and take me out of the country and give me safe place.

In the next day or two, people from the local government and the district assembly came and helped us in hiding our package and our things and we returned to the border. Some people helped us [go] back across the border and that’s when I decided to go back to Pakistan.

We returned to Pakistan and a colleague of mine told me that the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation had completed the last task of handing over our package and we entered the Pakistani territory. The border [was] in Nowshera. We reached the border on the third day and the Pakistani government helped us to cross it.

As we entered Pakistan, a policeman stopped us and asked about those Afghans in our group that were also fleeing Afghanistan. The officers told us that if they ever saw any Afghans during their patrol, they would shoot at them. So, I could not have any serious conversation with any officer.

Pakistan is a big country. It’s the most developed country in the region. But still, we still cannot leave our country. We still can’t trust anyone and we have no other place to go. In the past, we used to live in other areas in this country and they were not dangerous places and we were free.

So I came here and I’ve never felt any fear in Pakistan. Now, my lack of trust in Pakistan is one of the reason why I still hold on to hope that some day we can get back to Afghanistan safely and people here could help us to build our families here and teach us many things that we don’t know here.

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