Ayoubi insisted on speaking on the record despite the threat to her life. “I have spoken up enough times to be on a hit list, so speaking now won’t change anything,” she said. “I want to let the world know about the current situation.”
Just a few weeks ago, before the Taliban captured Kabul, Ayoubi was on the roof of her building, singing with her neighbors, and tweeting #AfghanLivesMatter. At the time, she was quoted by the French newspaper Le Monde: “If the Taliban come to Kabul, they will burn down everything we have built in these 20 years. As I look around, I wonder, what could I take with me? My three children and maybe some clothes.”
Since the fall of the capital, women like Ayoubi have been left scrambling to find a way out with their families. Some of her friends have made it out of Afghanistan. But women on the Taliban’s list are walking on a tightrope where a single misstep could mean death. When the Taliban held power in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women and girls were banned from education and forced to wear a burqa outside the home. They could not work at all, or even leave the house without a male chaperone. Punishments for violating this code ranged from public floggings to executions.
A document has circulated through social media and group chats for people trying to figure out how to leave the country. The author, who said they work as an adviser to a government in the region and asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that the document collates publicly available information on visa processes as well as advice on security and travel logistics they had gleaned from diplomats and other contacts in the country.
“People can submit tips, and I’ll verify their accuracy before putting it on,” the document’s author told BuzzFeed News. “This information is mostly available, but buried. Information accessibility is a huge barrier.”
But the document, which BuzzFeed News has viewed, also paints a vivid picture of what it is like to navigate the maze of bureaucratic, logistical, and personal challenges for Afghans simply trying to get to Kabul’s international airport.
“You should bring as few belongings as possible, no pets,” the document states. “Only one piece of small hand luggage (e.g. a handbag) is allowed, and this is subject to space limitations – there have been occasions where space is so tight no hand luggage has been boarded.”