Afghans in Berlin fear for their families back home

The Taliban victory in Kabul has triggered anxiety among Afghans living in the city.

Mobaraka Zaheri graduated from high school in June.
Mobaraka Zaheri graduated from high school in June.Benjamin Pritzkuleit

Berlin-Since the triumph of the Taliban in her home country, Afghan Berliner Mobaraka Zaheri has been reluctant to leave her apartment. 

"It scares me. I don't go out like I did before," says the 20-year-old. She constantly turns around to see if someone is following her. Zaheri came to Germany as a refugee with her parents five years ago, and is not actually in danger here. But then she heard from her aunt in Kandahar that young women there are being beaten when they leave the house. She calls the current situation a "traumatic experience".

Like Mobaraka Zaheri, many Afghans feel the same way, regardless of whether they have recently arrived as refugees or have been living in Berlin for many years. According to the latest statistics from 2020, about 14,500 people from Afghanistan live in the German capital. 

One of them is Waheed Omid. The 35-year-old worked as an interpreter for the the German military (the Bundeswehr) and fled to Berlin with his family at the beginning of July. His parents are still in Afghanistan. Omid worries that the Taliban will take revenge on his relatives in the country, although they have claimed there would be no such reprisals.

"My parents fled their home to my house in the city. Now they had to leave that too and have gone to stay somewhere else," he says. He says a lot of people know that he and his brothers worked for the armed forces, so the move is necessary. Omid has heard that the Taliban have been searching the houses of government supporters, which could also affect people who worked for the Bundeswehr and their relatives.

Afghans demonstrate at the Brandenburg Gate

The situation at home has mobilised the Afghan community in Berlin. On Monday a small group demonstrated at the Brandenburg Gate. One placard said: "Don't leave Afghanistan to the Taliban."

Habibolah Zaheri, Mobaraka's brother, was at a demo on Saturday. When he came home he read that Kabul had fallen. "I'm shocked, I never thought that the Taliban would take over the whole of Afghanistan in a fortnight," says the 19-year-old technical school graduate in Berlin. People on the ground are in shock, he said. Afghans in Berlin are discussing the current situation passionately on social media. "There will be many dead - women and children," Zahiri fears. "Many will flee to Europe." 

Babul Nabizada also worked as a translator for the Bundeswehr and now lives in a refugee home in Marienfelde. His brothers had escaped to Kabul but went into hiding after the Taliban took over the city. Nabizada feels helpless. "We don't know what to do here. We have no choice but to wait," he says.

Waheed Omid and Babul Nabizada.
Waheed Omid and Babul Nabizada.Sabine Gudath

Nabizada heard on social media that the Taliban had killed interpreters. Like Waheed Omid, the 38-year-old believes that the Taliban would catch up with reprisals once they have secured their grip on power. "There's no guarantee. They have broken their promises in the past," he says. The only good thing about the situation, he says, is that few innocent people have died so far because the Afghan armed forces surrendered immediately. Others, however, are outraged that the 300,000-strong army laid down its weapons without a fight.

Mobaraka Zaheri hopes that Germany will continue to stand up for her home country, with troops or at least in diplomatic negotiations. "The Taliban must finally say exactly what they want," the 20-year-old says. "They say they want Islam. But marrying off 12-year-old girls and burning down houses has nothing to do with Islam," says Zaheri, a Shiite, who says she would have to fear repression from the Sunni Taliban if she returned. Her German residency papers are renewed every three years, just like those of her brother Habibolah. The 19-year-old says he also looks towards the September elections with trepidation.

"As long as Ms Merkel was chancellor, we still had hope, but sometimes I'm afraid another party might deport us."