Since the U.S. withdrew its troops and the Taliban seized power in August, Afghanistan has plunged into an economic crisis that has pushed millions already living hand-to-mouth over the edge. Incomes have vanished, severe hunger has become widespread, and badly needed aid has been stymied by Western sanctions against the Taliban.
“For Afghans, daily life has become a frozen hell,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said recently. More than half of the population is facing “extreme levels” of hunger, he added.
With no relief in sight, hundreds of thousands of Afghans are fleeing to neighboring countries.
“There is no other option for me, I cannot go back,” said Najaf Akhlaqi, 26, as he dashed for the Iranian border under cover of darkness.
Aid groups estimate that 4,000 to 5,000 Afghans are crossing into Iran every day. More are fleeing to Pakistan. Though many are leaving because of the immediate economic crisis, the prospect of long-term Taliban governance—including harsh restrictions on women and fears of retribution—has only added to their urgency.
The Taliban have ordered men to grow beards and wear traditional Afghan clothes. They’ve pulled several international radio stations and two Afghan ones off the air. But it’s women who’ve suffered the most. The Taliban have closed most girls’ high schools, banned many women from working, and require them to cover themselves in public from head to toe.
“Education was the only way to give us some hope in these times of despair, and it was the only right we hoped for,” says Zahra Rohani, 15, of Kabul. “And it has been taken away.”