Back to Kunduz – despite the dangers

Tens of thousands of Afghans have been driven from the northern city of Kunduz by fierce fighting. Many of them now want to return there rather than join those fleeing to Europe and other places abroad.

Afghanistan Kabul Flüchtlinge

When the Taliban temporarily captured the city of Kunduz, many residents wanted to do but one thing: get out. Out of the city, maybe even out of the country. Now, many would like to go back home – and not to Europe, a frequent destination for Afghans fleeing conflict in their homeland.

“There is no way that I want to go to Europe,” says Haji Jamauddin. The 62-year-old high school teacher fled during the attack. He and his family came to Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, to escape the uncertainty of their home province. They are not the only ones. Many of these people are now standing in a long line at the Baraki bus stop in the city’s Sherpur neighborhood. They are waiting to go back to Kunduz.

Having been in the hands of the Taliban for several days, Kunduz is now once again under the control of the Afghan government. But that does not mean that security has been entirely re-established, and fighting still continues on the outskirts of the city.

Little help from the government

Several buses carrying displaced persons drive to northern Afghanistan every day. But there aren’t enough seats for all those who want to travel. So far, with the help of the Trade Ministry, some 300 families have been able to return. The rest of them have to come to the bus stop every day and hope that they can get a seat. Harun Jan Aghaz waits for a call from the government every day. But so far he hasn’t had any luck. “They just call those with money or power. They put those refugees up in a hotel in Khairkhana (a neighborhood in Kabul), instead of helping us. We’re stuck here with just the shirts on our backs,” he complains. The 20-year-old accuses the government of being corrupt.

According to the Afghan Ministry for Refugees and Repatriations, some 20,000 families have left Kunduz and fled to neighboring provinces and to Kabul over the last several weeks. “The ministry has absolutely no aid budget for displaced persons,” said Minister Sayed Hossain Alemi Balkhi during a press conference a few days ago. “We can offer them neither money, food nor lodging.”

Taliban fighter talking with residents in Kunduz

Several Afghan citizens’ groups and NGOs have been giving the displaced food and a place to sleep. Those who cannot be placed with relatives are sheltered in unfinished buildings. A number of private businesspeople are also setting up tents, or letting refugees sleep in their homes. Like Hekmatullah Shadam from southern Kandahar. He is taking care of several families from Kunduz and has rented an entire building in Kabul to give them a roof to sleep under.

Chilling photos from Europe

“I have faith in our province – but I don’t trust our government,” says Elham. The thin young man is all of 19. “The older generation complains that all of the young people are leaving. But they and the president should bring their families back to Afghanistan before they make accusations about young people.” Elham does not want to leave. He is counting on progressive forces establishing themselves and young people being able to find work. “Why would I go then? For us Afghans, this is the most beautiful place in the world.” Refugee standing at wall

Sanaullah is of the same opinion. “My family decided not to go to Europe,” he explains. “On the Internet I saw how refugees are handled and the miserable conditions they have to live in.” That deterred him.

“It is better in Kunduz than in Kabul,” says Dawood, a homesick 44-year-old. He is also one of the many people who want to return home as soon as possible. And flight from Afghanistan, a fresh start in a new country? Both concepts are unthinkable to him. “Should the Taliban come back, we won’t flee again. We will get weapons and defend ourselves. We will fight. What could I ever want in Europe? I’d rather die in my Kunduz home.”

Sayed Amin Behrad from Kabul contributed significantly to this article.

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