A year after Kabul escape, family remains apart

STORY: Massouda Kohistani managed to get out of Kabul a year ago, desperately fleeing the Taliban.

A political analyst and women’s rights activist under the previous regime, she's now safe in the Spanish city of Salamanca.

But as this emotional call shows, her mother and more than a dozen other family members were forbidden to board the same military plane and were left behind on the tarmac. Reuters couldn't independently verify their story.

Attempts to bring them out later failed due to their lack of travel documents and funds.

For Kohistani, the guilt is crushing.

“I wish I could be by your side, but I can’t, until God opens a door for us.”

“What should I do? Where can I go?" her mother says, in Kabul.

Kohistani's sister says it was hard to let her go and live in a foreign country alone and they worry about her constantly.

“We have no regrets, because her life was in danger. Even Massouda herself said then that she would prefer suicide to being arrested by the Taliban.”

She and their mother say the Taliban conducts surprise searches of their home to check if Massouda has returned from Spain.

Besmullah Habib, deputy spokesperson for the Afghan Interior Ministry, denied the searches.

Thousands of Afghans fled the country in the chaotic days that followed the hardline Islamist Taliban's military conquest last August 15, though there are no precise numbers.

Habib said the Taliban had invited them all to return, and a special commission was set up to help that happen.

Kohistani has been jobless since she arrived in Spain, mainly because of the language barrier. A local NGO gives her money to pay rent and buy food.

She used to support the family, now she can't pay for her mother's medicine.

“I was the only one that played the role of a father and a mother to all my family members, because I worked hard, and I worked with a lot of international organisations, and I had good income than the rest of my family members. And currently, the most thing that makes me painful is the lack of education for my family members, even they do not have money to their bus fare.”

Kohistani is taking Spanish lessons and has applied for master’s degree in politics and human rights, which she hopes will allow her to get a related job and eventually bring the family over.

Despite her family's appeals, she never stops raising awareness about Afghanistan on social media and taking part in discussions and conferences.

“The message to the world is that please stand with Afghanistan women. Please do not recognise the terrorists in Afghanistan.”

Massouda says her refugee status has been confirmed, valid for five years.

Spain's Interior Ministry declined to comment on individual cases.

According to ministry data, almost 2,000 Afghans have sought asylum in the last year and just over 1,500 have been granted it so far.