Passport office reopening gives threatened Afghans hope

·3-min read

The reopening of the passport office in Kabul on Wednesday gave some Afghans who feel threatened under Taliban rule fresh hope they may soon be able to escape the country.

Hundreds of people flocked to the department to apply for travel documents in a test of the new Afghan government's commitment to the international community to allow eligible people to leave.

"I'm trying to run away," said Mohammad Hanif, who said he was an interpreter for the US special forces in the south of the country from 2009 to 2013.

Like many Afghans who worked for US and allied forces following the 2001 invasion, Hanif fears the Taliban will take revenge if they find him, so is desperate to flee.

"I have a stress right now," Hanif said in English. "Because also I live in Helmand province -- it's very dangerous."

The 32-year-old was among those who went to the passport office in Kabul as it opened for the first time since the Taliban seized power in mid-August.

A day earlier the Taliban had announced that all staff -- including female employees -- had been asked to return to their offices as the new government tries to kickstart the country's flailing infrastructure.

Hanif said he first applied for his passport four months ago, but only managed to complete the application on Wednesday and will collect the document in a couple of days.

The former interpreter said he has a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) for the United States and plans to move there with his wife and two children.

He said he first tried to leave Afghanistan during the chaotic US-led evacuation operation in August, but could not get into Kabul airport.

"When the Taliban took over the country, especially the capital, everyone tried to go to the airport," he told AFP outside the passport office, clutching his paperwork.

"I got an email and phone call from my mentor as well to get my ass to the airport, so I went there.

"There were a lot of people, a lot of crowds. I couldn't make it."

- Women back to work -

Since then, Hanif told AFP he is being hunted in Helmand province by the Taliban who accuse him of stealing weapons and a vehicle from the government.

"Yesterday I got a call... and they're trying to catch me," he said.

"They're calling me directly to bring those things back. I told them that I didn't take anything. I'm not in the government. I was an interpreter."

Until he manages to board a flight, Hanif said he is "hopeless".

"I can't move around. I stay in Kabul, because people up here don't know me. That's why I'm here."

The Taliban have been trying to get government employees back to work, but civil servants have gone months without salaries.

The head of the passport department, Alam Gul Haqqani, said passport office staff were being paid and separate offices had been created for women and men in accordance with the Taliban's view of Islamic law.

"There is no problem," he said. "Both female and male employees are back at work."

Haqqani, who said the office is able to issue about 6,000 passports a day, told AFP the "great mass of people flocking for passports will not cause any negative effect".

Meanwhile, a sixth passenger flight left Kabul airport to Doha on Wednesday, a senior Qatari government official said.

The flight carrying more than 300 passengers included Afghan journalists as well as citizens from countries all around the world.

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