‘We’ll begin once more’: Afghan feminine MPs, now refugees, are nonetheless preventing for rights | Afghanistan

It is a Saturday morning in November, and Afghan MP Nazifa Yousufi Bek gathers up her notes and prepares to move for the workplace. However as a substitute of leaping in an armoured automotive sure for the mahogany-lined parliament in Kabul, her journey is by bus from a Greek lodge to a migrants’ organisation within the centre of Athens. There, taking her place on a folding chair, she inaugurates the Afghan girls’s parliament-in-exile.

“Our folks don’t have anything. Moms are promoting their kids,” she tells a room packed together with her friends. “We should elevate our voices, we should put a cease to this,” says Yousufi Bek, 35, who fled Afghanistan together with her husband and three younger kids after the Taliban swept to energy in August. Some round her nod in settlement; others quietly weep.

Yousufi Bek, from the northern Takhar province, is considered one of 28 feminine MPs who’ve discovered refuge in Greece, a rustic most had by no means visited earlier than. Till lately, these girls made up greater than 40% of Afghanistan’s feminine MPs. Now they’re confronted with an unrecognisable alphabet and an unsure future.

Left to proper: Nazifa Yousufi Bek, MP for Takhar province, with Fawzia Hamidi, MP for Balkh province, and Homa Ahmadi, MP for Logar province. {Photograph}: Joel van Houdt/The Guardian

They need to fight an illegitimate regime that has stripped girls of fundamental rights and plunged their nation deeper into poverty and starvation amid an financial meltdown attributable to the American withdrawal and sanctions.

November sunshine pours by the home windows because the room buzzes with power. The ladies take turns talking, standing as much as tackle their friends. They categorical opposition – to the Taliban, to what they described as Pakistan’s outsized affect on current occasions – as they might in parliamentary classes in Kabul, by rhythmically drumming their fingers on the desk.

Throughout conferences with Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and president, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, the MPs have pushed the nation’s authorities to advocate for Afghan girls with different EU member states. They’ve additionally petitioned a number of ambassadors, together with the US envoy, to strain their governments to think about human rights when working with the Taliban.

Shagufa Noorzai got here up with the thought for a parallel parliament-in-exile with Yousufi Bek. A trainer earlier than changing into a legislator, whereas in workplace Noorzai centered on bettering the monetary standing of ladies and arrange a basis geared toward supporting homeless kids and widows in her native Helmand province. “I would like girls in Afghanistan to suppose, ‘Shagufa didn’t overlook us. Shagufa needs to do one thing for us’,” says Noorzai, who at 24 turned the youngest member of parliament when she was elected in 2018. Most of the MPs have seen fierce opposition when searching for election; Yousafi Bek’s marketing campaign was the goal of a lethal suicide bomber.

Within the coming weeks, the MPs will maintain digital classes with Joe Biden’s administration, US Congress members and UN safety council officers, which shall be facilitated by Mina’s Record, a non-profit that helps girls’s political management and is working with the Afghan feminine lawmakers.

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, centre, talks with Afghan women lawyers and judges who fled from Afghanistan.
Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, centre, talks with Afghan girls legal professionals and judges who fled from Afghanistan. {Photograph}: Eurokinissi/REX/Shutterstock

On the agenda: the ladies’s rights disaster below Taliban rule, making certain assist reaches the thousands and thousands of ravenous Afghans dealing with a merciless winter and holding strain on western nations to offer protected passage for Afghan girls who labored as judges, prosecutors and activists, in addition to those that served within the safety forces.

“Our intention is to essentially leverage all of these networks, to amplify the ladies’s agenda, to amplify their platforms, to assist them have alternatives,” says Tanya Henderson, Mina Record’s founder and government director.

Feelings had been excessive when the ladies gathered for the primary time at a neighborhood centre run by Melissa Community, a grassroots community for feminine migrants and refugees that performed a task of their evacuation.

“You realise how a lot energy lies with girls,” says Nadina Christopoulou, an anthropologist and director at Melissa Community. Hundreds of ladies have come by her doorways lately, however that is probably the most high-profile group.

Shagufa Noorzai, MP for Helmand province, looks out from a balcony at the beach resort where she and her family share a small room.
Shagufa Noorzai, MP for Helmand province, seems to be out from a balcony on the seaside resort the place she and her household share a small room. {Photograph}: Joel van Houdt/The Guardian

“Girls are half of society, so we’re crucial. You may’t cover us,” says Noorzai, within the small lodge room she shares together with her mom, brother and sister simply outdoors of Athens. Flowering pink bougainvillaea timber climb the whitewashed partitions of a vacation resort that has seen higher days. The MPs and their households are its solely friends, filtering out and in of a meals corridor serving hen gyros and chips earlier than strolling alongside the seaside at nightfall.

It has not been a straightforward adjustment: the essential lodgings are a far cry from the opulent homes of many Afghan politicians in Kabul and their dwelling cities.

Wiping away tears together with her scarf, long-serving MP Homa Ahmadi reveals a current photograph on her telephone of Taliban MPs in Kabul. The place she as soon as sat surrounded by feminine friends and males in fits, there at the moment are solely males sporting turbans and sporting lengthy beards.

Ahmadi, 46, represented japanese Logar province for 15 years, profitable a seat in all three of the nation’s elections.

No nation has recognised the Taliban authorities, although senior officers from some, together with the UK, have met the group’s management in current weeks, the place they advocated for ladies’s rights. However these delegations contained no girls, sparking outcry from outstanding Afghan girls and inflicting German MEP Hannah Neumann final week to criticise such conferences as “counteracting the entire argument”.

The parliament-in-exile needs to carry to security the 9 feminine MPs who stay behind in Afghanistan. They’re in hiding, a traumatic predicament the ladies know all too nicely.

“[Since August], the Taliban have killed schoolgirls, policewomen and girls in authorities. The relations are too afraid to talk up,” says Fawzia Hamidi, 48, a lawmaker from northern Balkh province. Previously a prosecutor for circumstances of violence in opposition to girls, Hamidi describes current murders within the area because the tip of the iceberg.

Noria Hamidi, MP for Baghlan province, addresses the parliament-in-exile. On the left is Zefroon Safi, and on the right is Hamida Ahmadzai.
Noria Hamidi, MP for Baghlan province, addresses the parliament-in-exile. On the left is Zefroon Safi, and on the best is Hamida Ahmadzai. {Photograph}: Joel van Houdt/The Guardian

Scared of reprisal killings or torture by the Taliban, the MPs who fled first went into hiding earlier than escaping to Greece, typically in disguise or behind the anonymity of a face masks. Some flew by Iran and Georgia earlier than arriving in Athens, in a sophisticated rescue effort that concerned New York-based philanthropist Amed Khan.

Others, akin to Halima Askari from central Wardak province, crossed overland to Uzbekistan. In her second trimester of being pregnant, a physician in Tashkent instructed her the child’s oxygen ranges had been severely depleted resulting from stress. Now in her third trimester, she’s going to give start in Greece.

Hamidi describes how she was separated from her five-year-old daughter, Hadia, as she entered Uzbekistan below the quilt of darkness. “Hadia didn’t have a passport. So I used to be on one aspect of the border, and he or she on the opposite,” she says by muffled sobs. She remains to be ready to be reunited together with her daughter.

Many of the MPs in Greece are making use of for asylum in different international locations, akin to Canada, the US and Britain.

The MPs have discovered unlikely safety in Greece, a rustic that lately prolonged a border wall with Turkey with radars and drones designed to discourage Afghans from reaching Europe. They need to advocate on behalf of the 1000’s of Afghans in limbo in Greece, the place they’re the most important inhabitants of asylum seekers, with few job prospects and little alternative for reintegration with society.

“Greece is just the start. We’ll begin small, we’ll begin once more,” Noorzai says.

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