Afghan refugees in Qatar make first-hand appeal to ministers

Doha (AFP) –


Just days ago, Beheshta Arghand made history by becoming the first female Afghan journalist to interview a Taliban official live on television -- now she's a refugee appealing for help.

"I want to say to the international community -- please do anything for Afghan women," she told a gaggle of diplomats Wednesday at a centre for newly arrived refugees in Qatar's capital Doha.

"They must do as they promised".

Arghand, now a celebrity, is one of the lucky ones.

Shortly after her ground-breaking interview on August 17, she decided to get out, fearing for her life as the Islamists took control of the country, two decades after they were uprooted by a US invasion.

Speaking to Dutch Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag and Qatar's deputy foreign minister, Lolwah al-Khater, as they visited a vast complex housing Afghan refugees, the ex-presenter for Tolo News television was overcome by emotion.

"Because of me, my family will be threatened by the Taliban," she said, her voice shifting from confident to trembling.

"Islam gave these rights to us, so why do the Taliban take them from us?"

- Little Afghan 'princess' -

The ministers then turned to Abdul Nasir Rahimi, a former translator for the US Marines who was accompanied by his wife and six-year-old daughter Uswa.

The Dutch minister smiled and leaned towards the girl, calling her a "little princess".

"You are very pretty; I like your dress too," Kaag told Uswa, dressed in a denim dress.

"Do you sometimes go to play outside? Put some sun cream on," the diplomat added, amid the blazing Qatari summer.

The girl's father recounted his narrow escape from Afghanistan.

His wife told him that the Taliban knocked on their door as the militants went from house to house searching for collaborators with the police, government and other institutions.

Fortunately, he was not there at the time.

He later fled, at around 2 in the morning, finding sanctuary at first in a hotel in Kabul where he awaited Qatari officials.

Four days later, his family took the road to the airport, escorted by Taliban but were stopped by others from the militia, who detained him for an hour.

The two Taliban units "were not coordinated", he said.

"We were the lucky people that were evacuated by the Qataris. We are in a safe place but many skilled people were left behind," he added.

Some students gathered at the centre are destined for Rwanda; a journalist is set to find sanctuary in Ireland.

But Rahimi does not know where he will end up and laments his forced departure.

"I was involved in 180 developement projects... and now I can't see anything in Afghanistan."

"Never count on the Taliban," he added forcefully. "It's not Islam -- Islam never says you can kill innocent people."

The ministers moved on, anxious to keep an appointment with Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani.

They turned their attention toward another woman, Maryam Sayar, who insisted it was not her "choice to be here".

The Dutch minister responded: "It's never a choice to be a refugee."

Qatar has longstanding ties with the Taliban, having hosted peace talks, and it is a crucial player in addressing the refugee crisis.

It has so far welcomed some 50,000 refugees, including about 200 unaccompanied children, since the Islamists seized Kabul on August 15.