By S.W. Rotary Peace Fellow

A record-breaking 100 million people have been displaced around the world, and as global instability continues to rise, far too many people are seeking safety. Afghanistan is not an exception to this record number, and it remains in a dire situation. Since August 2021, with the collapse of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the return of power to the Taliban, hundreds of thousands of educated Afghans with graduate degrees from recognized international universities have been fleeing the country, resulting in a disastrous situation for Afghanistan. In the past twenty years of the republic, Afghanistan has made significant developments in various sectors. As a result, thousands of Afghans have received professional and technical education abroad. They were trained with technical knowledge in various fields to serve their country and nation, which has endured a forty-year-long civil war. This was the only hope for the silent majority to have a bright future in Afghanistan. However, due to poverty and the unstable political and economic situation in the country, there has always been a consistent flow of illegal migrants from Afghanistan to Europe. In the past, uneducated youths used to migrate due to poverty and a weak economy, but now, the scenario has completely changed. Even educated individuals are attempting to migrate, both legally and illegally, because there is no room for them in Afghanistan to live and work peacefully.

In this context, on February 17, 2023, Reuters reported that Bulgarian police found the bodies of 18 dead migrants from Afghanistan, including that of a child, in an abandoned truck near the capital Sofia. On May 24, 2023, after a long wait, the Kabul International Airport witnessed the reception of the dead bodies, which were later handed over to their relatives. It provides at least a painful relief that families received the bodies of their sons who had gone to financially support their families. There are countless stories of families throughout the country who have never been able to locate the bodies of their beloved family members.

I spoke with Ustad Baseer (his pseudonym), who has been struggling to find a way, either legal or illegal, to leave Afghanistan. The reason why he wants to leave the country, even illegally, is because, as he said, “It was my immense pleasure to become a university lecturer one day. For this dream, I studied late into the night because during the daytime, after college, I needed to work in the labor market to financially support my family. Finally, I completed my first undergraduate degree in Law and Political Science.”

As a university professor, according to the policy of the Afghan Ministry of Higher Education, one had to hold at least a Master’s degree to be eligible. Hence, Ustad Baseer was granted the prestigious Fulbright fellowship through an open merit competition, where he pursued an LLM at one of the renowned US universities. Despite the insistence of his friends and relatives to stay in the US due to the uncertain future of Afghanistan, Ustad Baseer did not accept and returned to Afghanistan. He continued to train Afghan students to become expert lawyers. Since the de facto authority dissolved the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association, Ustad Baseer is no longer interested in teaching his students at the university. Instead, he is constantly thinking about how to leave the country to secure a brighter future for his daughters, for whom education is now banned. He left me with a question: “What would you do if you were in my shoes and lived in a place with an uncertain future?”

 

Hearing about Ustad Baseer and many like him, who had to leave everything behind, really hits home. It makes you think about fairness and peace in a whole new light. Social justice is all about making sure everyone gets a fair shot, no matter where they’re from, and peace means living without fear of your world turning upside down overnight. These stories of hope in tough times remind us we’ve all got a part to play. Whether it’s a kind word, a helping hand, or just understanding, we can all help make sure no one has to choose between staying safe and chasing their dreams. Ustad Baseer’s question isn’t just for him; it’s for all of us to think about what we can do to make things a little better for everyone.

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