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2 Afghan Women, Living In Paris, Are Heartsick At The Return Of The Taliban

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

France is home to one of the largest Afghan communities in Europe. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley hears from two Afghan women in Paris who are heartsick at the return of the Taliban.

ZOHRA YARI: (Laughter).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Zohra Yari (ph) looks like a Parisian in her flouncy summer skirt and on-the-go, short, feathered haircut. She received asylum in 2017. Today, she's earning a university degree in international humanitarian action. Yari takes me inside the French Refugee Association, where she's doing a six-month internship. She says she loves being in Paris with all its opportunities. But it's torture to watch what's happening in her homeland, where her mother, three brothers and two sisters remain.

YARI: I cry. I hold it. I can't control myself. My body is in France, but my whole mentality is all in Afghanistan.

BEARDSLEY: Yari, who is 29, remembers the Taliban from when she was a young girl, before they were ousted by the U.S. invasion in 2001. But they regained control of some parts of the country. She recalls passing through Taliban checkpoints in her early 20s.

YARI: The Taliban stopped our car for checking if people were working with government or the foreign associations. They check always. And if they find them, they kidnap them. And it was too hard. I can't breathe.

BEARDSLEY: Yari says this is the second Taliban wave to crash over her family. The group kidnapped her father in 2000. The family never saw him again. She says her mother managed the family's landholdings and kept everyone together. Even though her mother wasn't educated, she insisted her daughters go to school.

YARI: My mother said that you have to study. And you have to work for Afghanistan.

CHEKEBA HACHEMI: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: Chekeba Hachemi, another Afghan in France, heads an NGO that runs a network of girls' schools across Afghanistan. She came to France in 1984 at the age of 11 and returned to Afghanistan in 2001 to become the first woman to serve in the first freely elected Afghan government. In the last few weeks, Hachemi has been frantically closing schools to keep teachers and directors from being kidnapped and killed. She says the U.S. and the Europeans have abandoned Afghanistan.

HACHEMI: (Through interpreter) After the World Trade Towers, the world woke up that Afghanistan was the source of evil. Twenty years later, we're leaving. But this time, we're giving them the keys.

BEARDSLEY: Hachemi says what's happening is not just an Afghan problem. International terrorists are flocking there, she says, and plan to build a new country - Terroristan (ph), she calls it, because it will be a laboratory exporting terrorism to the entire world. Zohra Yari, the university student, says she's most worried about her nieces back in Kabul. It's well-known that Taliban fighters take young girls to be their brides.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YARI: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: She shows me her 14-year-old niece dancing on a TikTok video, wearing makeup and stylish clothing just like any teenage girl in the West. People on the outside might not realize it, says Yari, but the last 20 years were a golden time for Afghans.

YARI: We studied. We did our school. Especially the young people right now, they have hope. They want to work in Afghanistan.

BEARDSLEY: Now that seems over. Yari understands the U.S. couldn't stay forever. But she says the Americans are leaving at the wrong time and in the wrong way.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF OLAFUR ARNALDS' "PARTIAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.