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Disabled Afghans In Special Jeopardy, Warns Exiled Campaigner

September 7, 2021

World leaders must act to protect disabled Afghans who are in immediate danger under Taliban rule, a prominent blind human rights activist has urged after being evacuated to the UK.

Benafsha Yaqoobi, a commissioner at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), said she fears the Taliban will neglect and discriminate against people with disabilities due to the belief, held by many in the country, that disability is a punishment from God for the sins of parents.

Speaking to the Guardian, Yaqoobi said: “I want from the UK and EU to please, please, create a special visa for women whose lives are in danger, people with disabilities whose lives are in danger.

“There are millions of people with disabilities there without any support, without food, without clothes, without education, without any basic human rights. We must raise their voices.”Advertisement

After a distressing journey to Kabul airport, Yaqoobi was evacuated by the Danish and travelled to the UK where she has spent the past 10 days in quarantine in a London hotel, and said she plans to contact activist Malala Yousafzai to discuss ways they could work together to help those suffering under the Taliban.

“I am scared the plight of the Afghan people will fade from the news. People with disabilities and women need help, people will die,” she said.

Yaqoobi and her husband, Mahdi Salami, who are both blind, were guided to Kabul airport by an assistant who is now in hiding in the country. She said they were beaten and pepper-sprayed during their three attempts to flee, and when she heard gunfire she feared her husband and assistant had been killed.

“It was really traumatic as a person with visual impairment. When they were shooting, they were shooting into the air, but I didn’t understand,” she said. “I was crying too much. It was really difficult for me and I couldn’t control myself, I screamed.”

She said there were children falling over and being trampled and injured outside the airport gates, where she and he husband were repeatedly pushed back. On their third attempt to escape, they were rescued under darkness after waiting for five hours in a remote location.

Yaqoobi believed she would be killed by the Taliban if she didn’t flee the country as a woman in a prominent position. She was often recognised in the street, and gave an hour-long TV interview just four days before Kabul fell.

“I was very scared because I was so well known. I covered my face with sunglasses and a mask, and went out the house to see if I would be recognised. When I got a taxi the driver said he knew me and had seen me on TV last week,” she said. “I felt I could be introduced to the Taliban very easily.”

Yaqoobi has served on the AIHRC since 2019, and along with her husband founded the Rahyab Organisation to provide education and rehabilitation training for blind Afghans.

Since taking power in Afghanistan last month, the Taliban has sought to assure the population it will respect the rights of women and minorities, and will not return to the brutal regime it implemented during the 90s when the group was last in control.

However, these assertions have been met with doubt by many and there have been reports of human rights abuses in the country.

“We will see in the future whether it happens. But the important issue for me now is people are dying, they’re starving and trying to leave,” said Yaqoobi, adding she hopes one day it may be safe for her to return to her home country.

“I don’t have anything now. But I have a big hope. Although I was forced from my nation, they will not take it from my heart for ever.”

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