Trying to flee Kabul: ‘We had no information at all’

Ahmad R., software developer from southern Germany

I got married in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. We wanted to fly out earlier, but all flights were canceled. I registered with ELEFAND, which is the German Foreign Ministry’s online portal for German citizens in crisis areas, and I got an answer early last week telling us to head to Kabul airport. We left Mazar-i-Sharif bound for Kabul.

We went straight to the airport the first day we arrived. But there was far too much going on: huge crowds everywhere, soldiers firing warning shots into the air. We didn’t dare go further in with our suitcases.

Second attempt

The next day, we took only backpacks with us. I had only an email from the Foreign Ministry telling me to come to the airport’s North Gate if possible. My company’s security service, however, had told me they had contacted someone at the airport who would pick us up at the gate. But the streets were completely packed, and we had to walk the last five or six kilometers (three to four miles).

The crowd there was so big — there must have been more than 10,000 people there, with everyone pushing and shoving. My wife was almost pushed to the ground and fainted. But, fortunately, there was a man who helped get her to the side. It was unbearably hot. We washed our faces with water and let it run over our heads.

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Then we ended up at another gate because the crowd in front of the North Gate was just too big. There were Americans there, but they shouted very loudly: “Go away!” and threatened to use their weapons. After several tries, I finally found a German soldier and asked him if we could enter because the North Gate was too far away and my wife was very weak since we hadn’t eaten all day. He said, “OK, wait here a minute. I need to talk to someone.” We waited, but nobody came. At 8 p.m., we couldn’t stand it anymore in the crowd and heat and without anything to eat.

We started heading home when people fired tear gas at us. Fortunately, we had water with us to wash it off. But I saw women and children just falling down. I saw a lot of injured people who were either shot or trampled and also lots of people with bloodshot eyes from the tear gas. That was the worst thing we experienced: the tear gas.

The shock runs deep

The next morning, I had lost all hope. No one came to help us even though I had all the necessary documents with me. No one had any information for us, aside from telling us that we needed to go to the North Gate. I called everywhere, all the numbers I had, even the international help numbers. But they couldn’t do anything either. I didn’t want to go back to the airport, but my wife said we had to keep trying.

On our third try, we made it to another gate after three or four hours. That’s where I showed my papers to an Afghan soldier, who finally let us onto the airport premises. I was lucky because there were Bundeswehr soldiers there who I was able to talk with. From there it got much easier. Our documents helped us to get out of the country. At 7 p.m. on Saturday, August 21, we left Kabul headed for Tashkent and from there via a connecting flight to Frankfurt.

I’m happy to be back in Germany, but the situation for family members still in Afghanistan remains uncertain. I’m especially worried about my father, who runs a girls’ school and a kindergarten there. The shock of those days and the things we experienced still runs deep.

Maryam K., nursery school teacher from Kassel

I am married to an Afghan citizen, have a daughter and am six months pregnant. We had been visiting my husband’s family in Kabul since July and wanted to fly back to Germany on a civilian flight on August 24. Nobody expected this. The Taliban, they said, could never take Kabul so soon. But then everything happened so quickly. Virtually overnight, they were there.

We registered directly with ELEFAND. On Monday night (August 23), we spoke with a nice gentleman from the German Foreign Ministry, who took down our details and reassured us that everything would be fine. He also took down the names and passport numbers of our immediate family members — my mother-in-law, brother-in-law and sister-in-law — and made sure that the names and passport numbers matched up. We were told we’d get an email within the next two hours with an attached PDF containing our tickets made out in our names. It all sounded very bureaucratic, very correct and very German. Just like we’re used to.

With these documents in hand, we were supposed to go to a meeting point near the airport that had not yet been determined. From there, someone would pick us up. We packed our belongings and waited for the email. But nothing came. Not at midnight. Not at 1 in the morning. We were still awake at 5 a.m. but still no email.

He said our names were on the list

It was the same thing on Tuesday. On Wednesday, my sister in Germany tried again to reach the Foreign Ministry in Berlin and had a hard time getting through. We got a call back from a German official who wasn’t able to tell us anything new. He said the security situation on the ground in Afghanistan was being reassessed. What he did tell us was that we were registered and that our names, in any event, were on the list. This wasn’t the case for my husband’s family, however, although we were told earlier that this was the case. Their names and details were added to the list as well. And that was it. After that, we didn’t hear anything. We only got a mass email sent out to everyone telling us not to go to the airport on our own because of the dire security situation there.

We went there anyway, and it was complete chaos. We thought we’d be able to make it through by waving our German passports. But we had to fight our way through on foot since there were unbelievable crowds of people from all over Afghanistan: There were newborns, injured people. My husband also saw a dead woman and one who was crying for her husband. There were people who passed out. The morning heat was terrible. Then we passed the Americans and it was suddenly quite clear. They told us to keep going because Germans were further ahead. Then we must have walked another two kilometers to the next airport gate. That’s where all hell broke loose. There were no German soldiers there. So we turned around and headed back.

No more flights going out

An Afghan acquaintance with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Kabul was with us the last few nights, hoping that as a German citizen I’d finally get an email and that she’d be able to leave the country with us. Her boss in Berlin also tried to help.

We went back to the airport on Thursday to try again. She gave us the number of a German and I don’t know if he was a soldier or a diplomat and I called and asked him: “Can you help us? We’re standing very close to the airport gate. Can someone get us in?” But all he said was: “I’ll be very direct: No, there are no more flights going out. The gates are in real danger. It would be better if you just headed home.” We left the area once again.

I now have no idea what we’re supposed to do. The only thing left is to hope that we’ll eventually be able to get a civilian flight out of here. But I’m not very hopeful.

Three hours later, a pair of explosions near Kabul airport killed scores of people. The last German military flight left the Afghan capital Thursday night.


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