As their dreams collapse, we cannot turn Afghans away - Christa Ackroyd

Just a few days ago, actress, model and activist Lily Cole shared pictures of herself wearing a burka.
A Taliban fighter searches the bags of people coming out of the Kabul airport. (AFP/Getty).A Taliban fighter searches the bags of people coming out of the Kabul airport. (AFP/Getty).
A Taliban fighter searches the bags of people coming out of the Kabul airport. (AFP/Getty).

Alongside it she pleaded for diversity while pushing her book about climate change. I fail to see the connection. As women’s rights in Afghanistan were being decimated again, as the brutal regime which had denied them regained control, condemnation of her actions was swift.

She apologised and removed the photographs explaining she “hadn’t read the news”. Silly, silly, supposedly intelligent girl. Well just in case she hasn’t caught up, here are a few headlines and images she may have missed during the past heartbreaking 11 days.

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A two-year-old girl wanders around a barbed-wire compound clutching an American passport handed over by someone who risked their life to save a child, before melting back into the crowd at Kabul Airport.

Women who have made it through scream “the Taliban are coming” as those they fear fire shots in the air and kick a man on the ground. Babies are thrown over the airport fence as the men now in charge decide who gets through and who does not. We are warned we will probably not get everyone out, even those with the correct documentation.

In the past two days, a journalist carrying the Afghan flag has been shot. A woman forced to cook for Taliban soldiers has been beaten to death. Another died for refusing to wear a burka, her body pictured lying in a pool of blood. Members of the militant group now in charge have been going to houses in search of informants.

Photographs of unveiled Afghan women have been painted over on the doors of fashion houses and beauty salons. A former female mayor tells the world she is just waiting for the knock on her door, as is a 21-year-old teacher who dares not leave her home.

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Women working in a bank have been marched out at gunpoint for showing their faces. Male relatives will take their place. Female journalists have largely been replaced on screen by men.

They, too, are in hiding. Those who are bravely still on screen are almost certainly allowed to be so by the Taliban propaganda machine as they plead with the world they have changed. No one believes them.

If this is happening now, then how will the Taliban respond when the West has gone? I fear with the same brutality as they have in the past. And women once again will suffer.

So let me look at the Taliban claims that these women will now be secure under this new regime, a regime whose leaders say they “will show themselves to the world”, no doubt as their henchmen continue to operate in the shadows.

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Women can now be educated over the age of eight, the Taliban say. But only up to university level. Which means they will be educated to become good Taliban wives to cook, clean and be subservient in a country where Amnesty International believes up to 80 per cent of marriages are forced.

Without university education there will be no female judges or doctors and no female journalists asking the questions they wish, because all journalists according to the new regime “must not work against us”. That is not what a free press looks like, nor is it a country led by men who have “changed”.

They still wish control over the clothing women wear, though there is some debate over whether a headscarf is sufficient. And in case you have forgotten, Afghanistan is where a girl had part of her thumb cut off for using nail varnish, where girls under the age of 16 have been rounded up to become the sex slaves of soldiers.

The Taliban’s so-called “charm offensive” is a cynical attempt to manipulate public opinion for one reason alone... money. Without international recognition there is not a penny coming from foreign aid and world monetary organisations unless they show that this time things will be different. So they promise it will be, while warning women to obey “Islamic law”. Sadly, a leopard doesn’t change its spots. I hope I am wrong. I fear I may not be.

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Yet still there are those who would turn those fleeing away, who remain unmoved by the horrors unfolding.

Well I am proud that a hotel down the road in Huddersfield is opening its doors to them, just as I am saddened that Torbay has said there is no room at the inn. There is always room. Only 10 per cent of this country is urbanised.

And here are some other myth busters. For those who argue refugees will be living on benefits, they receive less than £40 a week and cannot claim housing benefits. Nor are they allowed to work.

To those who say we have enough homeless people here, what do you do to help the homeless? To those who say we take more than our fair share, Turkey has taken the most (3.7 million), and both Sweden and Hungary take in several times more refugees per head of population than we do.

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For those who believe it is not our problem let us not forget we engaged in a war which, if it is to count for anything, means taking responsibility for those who stood alongside us. We have to hear their cries.

Women in Afghanistan have this week taken to social media to beg for help. As one wrote: “With every city that collapses human dreams collapse, history and futures collapse. Our world collapses. Someone please stop this.”

Can we really look the other way when our intervention in a foreign land helped shape those dreams, feed those ambitions and gave women in particular a glimpse of what freedom means? For the love of humanity, we cannot abandon them now.