‘We left with the clothes on our backs’: Afghan refugees cling to mementos from home

‘We left with the clothes on our backs’: Afghan refugees cling to mementos from home

Afghan activist Fatema Soleimani had minutes to grab what she could before beginning a treacherous 730-kilometre journey with her family to reach their flight from Afghanistan as the Taliban consolidated control over the country.

She had been living in hiding for more than two months after the Taliban swept to power on August 15, changing locations often to escape threats from the insurgents, who were pursuing her and her colleagues for their work empowering women and minority groups.

Nearly nine months pregnant and accompanied by her husband and two young daughters, she quickly put together a small bag of clothes, documents and some personal items, including supplies for her unborn child.

Within an hour they were packed, said their goodbyes to the extended family, and were on their way across the country, racing against time to ensure they caught their flight.

The Taliban takeover last year triggered a mass departure from Afghanistan, particularly of Afghan women, who lost their hard-earned rights and freedom.

Often with very little time to pack their lives, those leaving the country were forced to make hard choices about what to take with them to exile.

What they chose to save from their homeland now forms a collective memory for a version of Afghanistan that was at odds with the extremist ideology of the Taliban and no longer exists.

‘How can one pack their whole life in two bags?’

“We did not have enough time to even think of what we might have wanted to take with us,” said Ms Soleimani, sitting in the small apartment allotted to her family at a refugee centre in Albania.

“We had a carpet in our room that we would sit on every evening to talk about our day, our feelings, our love and life,” said Hadi Rasooli, her husband.

“I know it was just a carpet, but for us it held so much emotional value, so many memories. We had hoped to grow old with it.”

Ms Soleimani broke down as she recounted the last few moments in her house, in the city of Herat.

“Everything in that house I carefully chose and built over the last 11 years. From kitchenware to furniture, rugs and everything else, we purchased those things with a future in mind. How can one pack their whole life in two bags in a matter of hours?,” she asked.

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