DOHA (AFP) – Surfing on WiFi and enjoying free meals in comfortable town houses in Qatar, Afghans who fled their country have shrugged off the Taleban’s claims they are living in miserable conditions.
Despite an uncertain future, the Afghans of Doha’s Park View Villas insist there is no way they will go back to their homeland under the hardliners, no matter what the new rulers said.
Since August, more than 75,000 Afghans have passed through the Gulf emirate that brokered a peace deal between the Taleban and the United States (US) and remains a key intermediary in the Taleban’s difficult links to the outside world. One hundred Afghans are now at Park View, a compound built to house officials for this year’s football World Cup. Two hundred others were moved this week to a nearby US camp for processing to be relocated to the US.
The villas opened following criticism of facilities at an emergency camp on a US military base after the tidal wave of evacuations started.
The compound’s streets resemble a quiet US neighbourhood.
Last Sunday, Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid declared that the Taleban believed thousands of Afghans were “living in very bad conditions” in Qatar and Turkey.
The residents beg to differ.
“I can walk here. I feel safe,” Thamina Heerawie, 22, told AFP during a break from volunteer work at the Park View nursery school, a rowdy focal point of compound life.
“The situation here is much better than being at home and suffering over your dark future in Afghanistan.”
She said she would “definitely” go back to Afghanistan – if the Taleban were not ruling.
The Taleban regained power in August with a lightning offensive that capped a two-decade insurgency against a Western-backed government supported by a US-led international force.
Mujahid indicated airlifts had been definitively halted, though he later backtracked on suggestions Afghans would be barred from leaving.
The flights effectively ended on December 1 with little sign of a resumption despite international pressure.
Heerawie was one month away from graduating in accountancy when the Taleban took Kabul, depriving most girls of their education, though main universities reopened in February.
She was among the 200 moved to the US camp this week and hopes to find a university in America.
The Afghans can only leave Park View on guided day trips to parks, museums and sports events.
But after at least four months, the wait for a permanent home has become stressful.
Authorities have opened a mental health clinic to help them cope.Carpet maker Mia Kamal Ud Din, who fled with his family, said the uncertainty played on the minds of many.
“It is a little bit difficult but they look after us very well and we don’t have problems living here. It is just that we do not have a permit to go outside,” he said. Kamal Ud Din insisted the Taleban have no idea about their conditions.
The Qatari government has also questioned the Taleban comments, though Doha remains a hub for the Taleban, who have used it for talks with international envoys as they bid to unblock much-needed aid for the country.