The closest most Afghans have ever got to Albania is in the alphabet. Now, for some, it’s home and perhaps even their future.
Tirana — “There are two types of chickens in my country,” says Faisal, a 32-year-old Afghan refugee who reached Albania on a US chartered plane.
“One type of chicken, people keep them in their houses, and those chickens can wander around where they want. The other type of chickens are kept in cages. We are the second type of chickens.”
Faisal and his immediate family caught one of the first planes to arrive in Tirana, carrying 154 Afghan refugees on August 28. A former employee in the country’s Ministry of Agriculture in a USAID-funded project, Faisal was a communication manager.
They didn’t know they were destined for Albania – until they got on the plane. The original destination, Qatar, was changed at the last minute. Faisal’s family and other passengers were not allowed to carry their luggage but only the clothes on their back and one small piece of hand luggage.
Faisal, however, was one of the lucky ones. He and his family had made it into the airport when a terrorist group set off a bomb (claimed by Daesh-K) killing at least 170 Afghans and 13 US soldiers, resulting in carnage, stalling the US-led evacuation, and heaping more misery on those attempting to flee.
“The international community has turned their back towards Afghanistan,” says Faisal.
The lightning speed of the Taliban’s takeover of the country caught not only the Americans by surprise but also those Afghans who had worked with the US and thought they would have more time to sort out their affairs.
As thousands descended on Hamid Karzai International Airport, Faisal recalls that “I was either going to that gate or dying in here.”
It took Faisal and his family more than 20 hours inside the airport to move towards the boarding gate.
He shows pictures of his children strewn on the floor, sleeping on top of suitcases surrounded by litter that had been dropped everywhere—a final indignity for those leaving.
Visibly emotional and struggling to hold back his tears, Faisal finally says he felt “disrespected” as he and his family finally boarded the plane out of the country. “It didn’t have to be like that, people were trampled, kids were dying there!”
With only $200 in his pocket, the daunting prospect of restarting his life from scratch is only beginning to dawn on Faisal. “I don’t know if my degree is going to work outside,” he says. “I had a respectful job, people reported to me, I had a good paycheck.”
“Now I don’t know if I’m going to be working as a waiter, driving an Uber, all my education means nothing now.”