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Panic grips Afghanistan as NATO prepares to retreat

  • AFP
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Afghans fear that the Western exodus could spark a return to civil war and are leaving the nation

Losing hope:According to the UN, there are 2.7 million Afghan refugees — a quarter of the world's refugee population. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) says there are at least another two million illegal Afghan migrants.Photo: Reuters
Losing hope:According to the UN, there are 2.7 million Afghan refugees — a quarter of the world's refugee population. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) says there are at least another two million illegal Afghan migrants.Photo: Reuters

Mohammad has a good job at a U.S. construction company. But one by one he has watched friends and relatives leave Afghanistan — the vast majority in the last year.

One fled to Europe after witnessing a Taliban suicide attack on an upmarket lakeside hotel near Kabul in June.

"He was in the restaurant. His brother received four bullets in the leg. He called in shock. His brother was in the emergency hospital. Now he's in Germany," said Mohammad.

The 27-year-old trained architect, who did not want his real name disclosed, has the trappings of a comfortable life — an iPhone, a fairly new car, nice clothes and foreign holidays.

Taliban threats

Except that he and his friends live in fear of the Taliban, 11 years after the U.S.-led invasion kicked the Islamist militia out of government.

The June 21 attack on the Spozhmai Hotel was one of the worst this year, killing 18 people and targeting the wealthy elite who liked to spend Thursday nights dining in the restaurant or relaxing in the popular picnic spot.

As US and NATO combat troops prepare to leave by the end of 2014 and hand over responsibility for security to government troops, many middle class Afghans fear that the violence will get worse and the cash economy will dry up.

Fifteen of Mohammad's relatives have migrated west -- half of them illegally -- and most of them in the last year, he says. According to the UN, there are 2.7 million Afghan refugees -- a quarter of the world's refugee population. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) says there are at least another two million illegal Afghan migrants.

More Afghans left the country than repatriated in 2012, according to the CIA online factbook.

Between January and October, around 27,500 Afghans requested political asylum, according to the UN Refugee Agency — four times the number in 2005 — albeit slightly less than in the same period last year.

As 2014 approaches, Afghans fear that the Western exodus could spark a return to civil war, as seen a few years after Soviet troops withdrew in 1989, or allow the Taliban to regain more territory.AFP


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