Illustration courtesy of Fatima Wojohat

Seizure of Migration in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is a country in turmoil, but a country of many legends. As the situation worsens under the Taliban, these legends give way to a people struggling to survive, to migrate. Not everyone can make it out.

Dec 12, 2022

TW: This piece contains descriptions of violence, torture and sexual harm.
Merriam-Webster definitions are a notoriously bad start to an article. So, according to National Geographic, migration is a pattern of behavior in which “animals travel from one habitat to another in search of food, better conditions, or reproductive needs;” and according to Afghan people, migration is a pattern of bold bets in which humans travel from one habitat to another in search of a bite of food, bearable conditions, or resuscitative needs.
For example, in preparation for winter, millions of monarch butterflies make their way to the oyamel fir forests in Mexico. Another example would have been Afghan people traveling across or outside of the country to survive the brutal winter, or traders bringing them food to thaw people’s mouths and firewood to fight the cold. But in Pakistan, Afghans are arrested in hundreds and face poverty, prejudice, extortion, deportation, and death. They wore their desperation and disappointment on their sleeves as they gathered and chanted “kill us!” outside the UNHCR office in Islamabad, wearing blood-stained shrouds. In Iran, Afghans are shot dead as they cross the border or their children are taken from them, and those who survive the fiery welcome face torture, harassment, and detention before they find themselves one of the thousands forcibly returned to the arms of the Taliban or one of the tens of corpses “repatriated” after their organs were carved out of them.
So the journey that Afghans make for their survival is to pharmacies, so they can stock up on tranquilizing drugs that numb them and their children to the cold gnawing at their limbs and the hunger knotting their stomachs. They might also bargain about the price of a kidney or a child while they’re there — unless the child is one of the more than a million kids who perform back breaking manual labor in farms and factories, that is.
One year ago, as Afghanistan experienced its worst drought in decades and its first winter under the Taliban dictatorship, one in ten newborns (more than 13000 infants) starved to death, more than 95 percent of the country’s population didn’t have enough to eat, and 9 million Afghans lived on the brink of famine. In addition to the fatal malnutrition, people were also left with epidemic diseases (polio, measles, malaria, dengue, cholera, and COVID19) as the country’s healthcare system all but collapsed, leaving countless on death’s doorstep.
This year, as the drought droned on, the ground shook under Afghanistan’s unsteady, emaciated feet when the country’s deadliest earthquake in decades roared at midnight and claimed more than a thousand lives, injured thousands of people, and demolished thousands of houses. The survivors joined the 700,000 Afghans already displaced by drought and the 900,000 Afghans displaced in the three months of war with the Taliban, and only weeks later, the war in Balkhab displaced another 27,000 civilians. And when it rains, it pours. Afghanistan was also in line of impact for the floods that devastated Pakistan, losing nearly a hundred lives and a thousand houses. Afghanistan braces itself for another winter. Now, the country has a poverty rate of 97 percent and 19 million Afghans face acute hunger while three million children are acutely malnourished. Millions are homeless and displaced, and the price of fuel and food have risen high. And since a kidney can be sold only once, Afghans have no choice but to wait as their hell freezes over.
Meanwhile, some might not even get to weather the winter. On Nov. 23, the Taliban reinstated public executions and punishments. Since then, they have shot dead an alleged murderer and have flogged 75 people, women included, in sports stadiums of various provinces in front of crowds of spectators. This follows their routine of raiding civilian houses and “disappearing” hundreds of alleged militants whose bodies would be found later by their relatives drowned in water canals or mounted on trees. This is in addition to the “revenge killings” in which the Taliban hunted down and executed previous members of Afghan security forces. The Taliban have also stoned to death alleged adulterers and cut a hand and a foot off alleged thieves as their own members rape women and steal vital humanitarian aid. This is while the Taliban’s rival terrorist group, ISIS-K (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria - Khorasan), has also been attacking the airport, places of worship, and places of education, leaving hundreds dead and injured.
I’d like to imagine Afghan people migrating from the horrors of winter and war. But I can do just that; imagine. The reality is that not everyone gets to leave, and not everyone who leaves gets to have a life worthy of the name or a living befitting the dignity of a human being.
It is unfortunate that anyone should have to do so. Afghanistan, with its troublesome past and its turbulent present, is our home, our country. It’s unfortunate that our home is hungry and our country is the courtyard of terrorists and murderers. In school, I was taught a legend, a myth: Afghanistan is shaped like a fist because it is the beating heart of Asia, that Afghans stand together like the fingers of a hand, like the arteries of a heart, like the rocks of a mountain.
In university, I came across another legend when I was asked if Afghanistan is shaped like a fist of stone because it was where Abel killed Cain, where brother butchered brother for the first time, where blood was spilled and earth was sullied, where murder and mayhem was born. I am asked if my country is cursed and my people doomed.
In my room, I think about a third legend: Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires. I like this one. It’s somewhat true. Afghanistan is a graveyard. Not for the names in history books but for the anonymous millions who live in a heart that is drained and diseased, fractured and forsaken. For the people ruled by butchers and brother-killers, fluttering in the cage of their country’s borders, held down by the fist of a homeland they no longer recognize, unable to fly.
Negaar Rowan is a contributing writer. Email them at
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