PARIS: Afghan activist Rita Safi has harsh words for western governments she said have failed to deliver on promises to help women from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

Safi herself has made it to France where she is seeking asylum, but her sister Frozan was not so lucky. She died in a hail of bullets back home because she, too, was a defender of women’s rights.

Speaking in a shelter outside Paris, the 29-year-old Rita Safi said her sister would still be alive had the promised help been forthcoming.

“They were saying that they would support us, but these were just words,” she said. “They left us alone. This is the reason why I lost my sister.”

Safi had hoped for more support from Western powers after the Afghan capital Kabul fell to the group in 2021.

But a large majority of Afghans did not make their evacuation lists following the takeover, leaving them at the mercy of their new rulers.

Safi’s older sister Frozan was a prominent human rights defender in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Her body was found in October 2021, just over two months after the Taliban takeover. She was 29.

“She was killed so brutally by the Taliban,” she said, showing AFP an image of her coffin draped in a red cloth on her phone. “She was shot with seven bullets. Her face was totally destroyed.”

The Afghan authorities said that four women died that day and that they had arrested two people in connection with the killings.

After speaking to the media about the killings Safia said that she, too, received death threats.

Safi managed to escape to Pakistan in December 2021. She only had a two-month visa but hoped a Western nation would soon give her refuge.

Instead she was forced to spend two years in the Pakistani capital, living in constant fear of deportation.

During this time, the Taliban authorities continued to exclude Afghan women and girls from ever more spheres of public life, including high school and university, as well as parks, fairs or gyms.

It was not until a French journalist highlighted Safi’s plight in an article and vouched for her request for a French visa that things started to look up.

She was among around a dozen Afghan women to land in Paris on December 8. All have sought asylum and will likely be given it.

Rights groups have said many Afghans have been left in limbo in Pakistan, at risk of deportation.

Some 600,000 people have fled across the border to Pakistan since the Taliban returned to power in 2021.

But since October, some 345,000 Afghans have returned home, including after being deported.

“There are so many women like Rita in Pakistan who have had relatives killed or abducted in Afghanistan, who have been threatened,” said French journalist Margaux Benn, who is member of a collective trying to help these Afghan women.

“But they haven’t met a Westerner who wanted to help them, so their cases stay at the bottom of the pile.”

Tcherina Jerolon, from Amnesty International, said the visa application was so “long and complex” that Afghan women had basically been “abandoned to their own fate”.

Since 2021, France says it has handed over 15,000 visa to Afghans, “mostly women, rights defenders, journalists and magistrates”.

But Delphine Rouilleault, the head of the France Terre d’Asile (“France Land of Asylum”) association, said that hardly anyone had landed in France over the past year.

“No one has arrived from Afghanistan, and only very few Afghan women have landed from Pakistan,” she said. The French foreign ministry did not reply to a request for comment.


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