Christian relatives of a convert who fled to India from Afghanistan shortly before the Taliban seized power described days of terror before they were able to leave the country.
The Christian refugee in India, 24-year-old Esin, has been granted a visa extension. Her brother, going by the pseudonym Zakariya for security reasons, said he, another sister and his mother had rushed to a plane flying out of Afghanistan the day after the Taliban took control in mid-August.
Unable to board, they decided it was too dangerous to return to their home.
“Our neighbors knew about our belief, and it was extremely dangerous to go back, so we changed our place,” Zakariya said. “We thought that if they expose us to Taliban, they will kill us.”
Zakariya and the two relatives had arrived at the airport in Kabul at 6 a.m., he said by phone from a refugee camp in the United Arab Emirates.
“Every minute our hearts were pounding,” the 26-year-old Zakariya said. “We stayed at the airport beyond noon to board our flight for India, but we were informed that all flights were cancelled, and that we should go back home. We were stuck with fear and uncertainty at the news.”
Renting a room instead of returning home, he stopped using his phone to keep the Taliban from tracking him, he said. After several days, Christian friends managed to make arrangements for them to take a flight to the UAE – if they could get past Taliban security checks.
“I cannot express the terror and fear we felt for our lives each day after the Taliban took over,” Zakariya said. “Senior officials spoke to the Taliban about all the people who were about to leave, including us – they had some sort of agreement with the Taliban.”
The Taliban had a list of names of people who were to board their flight, he said.
“While we were waiting to board, Taliban men came searching for someone whom they wanted to stop from boarding,” Zakariya told Morning Star News. “We were so scared wondering if it was us that they were looking for. There was so much fear and uncertainty until the airplane took off that we felt that the Taliban would come and say, ‘Your flight is cancelled, and you have to get down and go back home.’”
Nearly three months after arriving in Abu Dhabi, he said their escape from Afghanistan seems like a miracle.
UAE authorities have yet to begin the process of their application for asylum, however, and their uncertain future, including prospects for reuniting with Esin in India, are wearing them down. His 62-year-old mother is growing impatient, he said.
“While my sister is still in India, my mother has gone into depression worrying about her,” Zakariya said. “She is alone in India, and day-after-day we are waiting to see that our paperwork would progress and that we would be sent to the U.S., and somehow we would reunite with my sister in the U.S.”
Zakariya’s sister, Esin (name changed for security reasons), received a visa extension in October to remain in India until Nov. 21, and she has since received another extension until mid-January 2022. She has applied for refugee status with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office in Delhi.
Esin said that after five months in India, her future is very much uncertain.
“I am very anxious now,” she told Morning Star News. “I am longing to be reunited to my mother and siblings. I do not know how and when this will be possible. If my mother and siblings are relocated to the U.S., there is hope for us to be reunited.”
Risks of danger for converts in Afghanistan are so high that she and her mother and brother only three years ago revealed to each other that they had left Islam to become Christians, as they feared violent backlash from other relatives and neighbors. Her brother had put his faith in Christ that year, 2018.
As Esin faced the greatest threat from Muslim neighbors threatening to kill her, her family managed to get her onto a flight to India in early August, she said. In December 2020, Esin was reading the Bible at home when neighbors intruded into the house saying, “We will kill you…You are a Kafir [infidel], we cannot stay with you in the same locality,” she said.
Earlier that year, Muslim neighbors had stopped her on the street to rebuke her for working rather than staying at home, Zakariya said.
“‘Women should not leave home; they should stay at home,’ they told her,” he said. “They beat her and searched her bag. They found a Bible in her bag. It was then that their suspicion was confirmed. They had a proof now that Esin was following the Christian religion; they suspected that all of us did.”
Zakariya said he and his mother are grateful to those who helped them leave the country. Though their only possessions are some clothes and passports, returning to their country would be disastrous, he said.
“The Taliban are very cruel and staunch,” he said. “When they do not spare the Islamic Shia people, one can imagine how they will deal with the Christians who once were followers of Islam. They will kill us if they knew we were Christians.”
Afghanistan is second only to North Korea on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. Conversion from Islam to another religion is considered apostasy, punishable by death, imprisonment, or confiscation of property.