For Afghan Refugees, a Mix of Luxury and Trauma at Albania’s Beach Resorts

SHENGJIN, Albania — The medical scholar, in a trauma-induced trance after every week underneath Taliban rule and three days of terror ready for a flight out of Kabul’s airport, regarded out the window on her first day at her new residence and noticed the Statue of Liberty.

“I believed for a second that maybe I used to be in New York,” mentioned Tahera, a 21-year-old scholar. However the statue, fabricated from plaster as a substitute of copper and positioned in northern Albania, a fiercely pro-American nation, was “a lot shorter than the true one,” she added, summoning up a wry humorousness regardless of her harrowing ordeal.

The statue was an unintentionally taunting ornament, a kitschy flourish on the grounds of an Albanian seaside resort housing greater than 440 Afghans who fled Kabul after town fell to the Taliban on Aug. 15.

Earlier than being flown final week to Albania, a rustic she had by no means heard of, Tahera had hoped to flee to the US or Britain, the place she has an uncle. (The New York Occasions is utilizing solely Tahera’s first identify to guard her household nonetheless in Afghanistan.) However with these international locations and different rich nations cautious of taking in refugees, she has discovered shelter in what is maybe the world’s strangest and most luxurious refugee camp.

Albania, one among Europe’s poorest nations, has dedicated to taking in as much as 4,000 refugees from Afghanistan, greater than another nation. The 677 who’ve arrived, together with about 250 kids, are being housed in resorts alongside the Adriatic coast, a apply based mostly on an emergency-response method that Albania developed after a devastating earthquake in 2019, when folks left homeless had been put up in seaside inns.

Though the Afghans are grateful for the lodging, the contact of luxurious rings considerably hole for a lot of.

Parwarish, an Afghan girls’s activist who labored on tasks funded by the US Company for Worldwide Growth, mentioned that she was touched by the Albanians’ kindness however that she nonetheless was sleeping fitfully and having nightmares.

“I see my household dying in my desires,” she mentioned. “All this luxurious is nice when you have peace of thoughts. I don’t.”

The choice to welcome the Afghans seems to be in style in Albania, a rustic with an extended historical past of its folks withdrawing. Offering for the refugees “is the proper and pure factor to do,” Prime Minister Edi Rama mentioned in an interview in Tirana, the capital.

Whereas opposition politicians in France, Germany and different European nations frequently stoke concern of refugees and migrants to place stress on authorities leaders, Mr. Rama’s opponents have largely stayed quiet or supported his welcoming of Afghans.

“We don’t put folks in camps. They’re dehumanizing and the place all the issues begin psychologically,” the prime minister mentioned. “Now we have been like them many occasions in our personal historical past. They’re simply making an attempt to flee from hell.”

Tahera, the medical scholar, shares a room with an Afghan girl who misplaced each of her fingers in a bomb assault in Afghanistan. Now at a resort with three swimming swimming pools and an extended sandy seaside, Tahera desires to study to swim, eager to take her thoughts off the traumas. She additionally appears to be like ahead to studying to trip a bicycle, a type of train that Afghanistan’s conservative, patriarchal society frowns on for girls.

Decided to maintain her deliberate medical profession on monitor, she is taking a first-aid course supplied on the resort by an Afghan physician from London.

Albania, a NATO member that despatched troops to Afghanistan to affix the U.S.-led effort to carry the Taliban at bay, has lengthy helped folks the US doesn’t need or doesn’t know what to do with.

When the American navy determined in 2006 {that a} group of Chinese language Uyghurs it had held captive for 4 years at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, weren’t harmful terrorists as China had maintained, Albania agreed to provide them a spot to reside.

However Mr. Rama mentioned of taking within the Afghans, “We aren’t doing this as a result of the Individuals requested us.”

Sensing that the American-backed authorities in Kabul wouldn’t final lengthy as U.S. troops accomplished their withdrawal from Afghanistan, Mr. Rama first supplied at a NATO summit in June to assist with what he feared could be a flood of Afghan refugees. He urged different leaders to do the identical. (A senior American diplomat in Tirana confirmed Mr. Rama’s account.)

However NATO leaders noticed little motive for quick fear. They caught to Washington’s optimistic view that the Taliban had been months and even years away from victory.

Two months later, Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, setting off an exodus of girls’s activists, civil society staff, journalists and different Afghans who concern the Taliban.

In Albania, on the Rafaelo Resort, a cluster of four- and five-star inns close to the city of Lezhe, evacuees from Afghanistan eat in a separate restaurant that serves halal meals, however mingle by the pool with vacationers, largely ethnic Albanians from neighboring Kosovo.

The Afghans’ room and board are coated by overseas organizations just like the Nationwide Endowment for Democracy and the Yalda Hakim Basis, which was arrange by a BBC journalist of Afghan origin. George Soros’ Open Society Foundations are paying for 135 Afghans who labored with the group in Afghanistan to remain at a high-end lodge and spa down the coast. (The group negotiated a steep low cost.)

The presence of veiled Afghan girls on poolside lounger chairs on the Rafaelo Resort has come as a shock to the paying friends, however none appeared to thoughts.

“I had no concept there have been so many Afghans residing right here, however they don’t hassle me,” mentioned Besnik Zeqiri, a Kosovo Albanian émigré to the US. “They’re all people and have to be protected.”

Liri Gezon, one other vacationer, mentioned he had seen terrified Afghans at Kabul’s airport on tv and was blissful to see them secure in Albania. “They aren’t creating any issues for us and need to reside like we do,” he mentioned, recalling how lots of of hundreds of ethnic Albanians had fled Kosovo to flee marauding Serbian forces within the late Nineteen Nineties and knew the trauma of flight.

Albania’s overseas minister, Olta Xhacka, mentioned in an interview that the Afghan evacuees had been initially anticipated to remain a few months whereas their visas for the US had been being processed. “However we are actually engaged on the premise that they’ll keep in Albania for a minimum of one 12 months, perhaps longer,” she mentioned, including that these unable to safe visas to maneuver elsewhere could be welcome to remain in Albania.

Wahab, a journalist who helped run a U.S.-funded information company overlaying girls’s points within the western Afghan metropolis of Herat, mentioned he had by no means anticipated such deluxe amenities. He fled Afghanistan along with his spouse and three kids, with assist from the Nationwide Endowment for Democracy.

“We’re luxurious refugees,” he joked. “We go to the seaside and see half-naked girls. We sleep, eat and go to the seaside. For most individuals this would appear like paradise.”

However Afghanistan retains intruding. He can’t cease fascinated by the eight Taliban checkpoints that stopped the bus he was touring on along with his household from Herat to Kabul, or seeing the Afghan capital for maybe the final time as his evacuation flight took off. Kabul, which the Taliban had taken over a number of days earlier, “regarded very, very darkish,” he mentioned.

An editor, who requested to not be named as a result of her household has acquired threats from the Taliban, mentioned she had “misplaced all hope in Afghanistan” and believed that the US was “in a approach proper to depart our nation, as a result of nothing was actually altering.”

As a fiercely unbiased journalist who grew up in a household of Pashtun, Afghanistan’s most conservative and quite a few ethnic group, she was herself proof that some issues may change. However the lightning-swift return of the Pashtun-dominated Taliban sounded the dying knell for her media outfit.

“Any change we achieved has now been multiplied by zero,” she mentioned. “We’re again at naught.”

Tahera, the medical scholar, avoids discussions about why her world imploded so shortly.

She had by no means deliberate to depart Afghanistan, however as a lady and a member of the usually persecuted Hazara minority, she determined that there was no future for her in a Taliban-ruled nation.

“I at all times advised my household and buddies, ‘I’ll by no means depart my nation,’” she mentioned. But her father urged her to go when the Yalda Hakim Basis supplied her an opportunity to get out, despite the fact that it meant forsaking her mother and father, 5 sisters and an toddler brother.

“I miss my household,” she mentioned. “I miss my college. I miss Afghanistan. I fear on a regular basis. There are simply too many questions I don’t know the reply to.”

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