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Afghan migrants stranded in Serbia fear for families under Taliban rule

Afghan migrants are seen at a camp in Obrenovac, near Belgrade
Afghan migrants are seen at a camp in Obrenovac, near Belgrade, Serbia August 31, 2021. REUTERS/Fedja Grulovic

September 1, 2021

OBRENOVAC, Serbia (Reuters) – Two Afghans with links to U.S. forces who ended up in Serbia after fleeting the Taliban advance are watching in dismay as the Islamist militants take over back home, saying the group cannot be trusted and they fear for relatives left behind.

Ahmadmir and Mohaed left about three months ago for their own security because of their past work for U.S. troops, making separate journeys across Iran and Turkey and ending up in a refugee camp in Serbia, where they are stranded.

Speaking to Reuters at the Obrenovac camp, 30 km (18 miles) west of Serbia’s capital Belgrade, Mohaed, 45, said his wife, two children, brother, sister and parents remained in Kabul.

“Me and my brother used to work for the U.S. army, they (the family) are not safe, because we cannot trust the Taliban. They are in hiding,” he said, speaking on condition his last name not be used due to the sensitivity of the subject.

A former handyman for U.S. forces, Mohaed said the decision by U.S. President Joe Biden to order the American military to pull out was wrong.

“Our government needed more help, and they just left,” he said.

In 2013 Mohaed applied for a special visa program to move to the United States, without success.

He left Afghanistan months before the massive but chaotic airlift by the United States and its allies that evacuated more than 123,000 people from Kabul over the past two weeks.

Despite the airlift, many of those who helped Western nations during the war were left behind.

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Ahmadmir, a former interpreter for U.S. special forces, said the Taliban were offering false assurances of safety to those who worked for the former Afghan government, when in reality they planned to take action against them.

“They (Taliban) are telling them – no problem, come to your jobs, continue living normally, but no – that’s not the case. Things are going in a different way. Yeah… I’m so worried about it,” Ahmadmir said. “They are pretending.”

Ahmadmir said his father, mother and two married sisters remained in Kabul. “You are asking me – are you scared that something could happen to your family; I say, yes, if the government is in the hands of the Taliban.”

The Taliban has sought to assure Afghans it will respect people’s rights, including women who it barred from studying and working during its 1996-2001 rule when it enforced its harsh interpretion of Islamic law. Those proclamations have been met with doubt by many.

Ahmadmir called a relative in Kabul and allowed a visiting team from Reuters to listen in.

“There is silence in Kabul, the bazaar is closed, the residents are not visible, everyone has disappeared somewhere …” the relative told Ahmadmir, according to a translation of the Pashto language by Reuters.

Serbia was a focal point for migrants in 2015, when more than a million people fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East and Asia made it to the European Union.

According to Serbian authorities, there are around 4,500 migrants in government operated camps across the country, 1,200 of them Afghans. Hundreds of other migrants are scattered in fields and forests near Serbia’s borders with Bosnia and EU members Croatia and Hungary, all countries they want to enter.

(Reporting by Fedja Grulovic and Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by William Maclean)

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