7 Sep 2021

Afghanistan: The blind couple who escaped the Taliban


The future for people in Afghanistan is uncertain, but for the disabled population it is even more precarious.

Disability activist Benafsha Yaqoobi, has  just fled Afghanistan and is calling for urgent action, warning that many could die without it.

She spoke to Channel 4 News about how she and her husband, who are both blind, managed to escape the country and how she feels about what she has left behind.

Across Britain, Afghans airlifted out of Kabul are coming out of quarantine hotels. On the riverside in Greenwich, south London, Benafsha Yaqoobi left her hotel with her husband this week.

She was a commissioner with the Afghanistan Human Rights Commission. Her work focused on educating children who were blind.

She said: “I am very happy because I’m free now, I’m safe, but I left behind many things.

“I left behind my children. I left behind people with disabilities (and) my nation. I want to use this freedom. I want this space to be their voice.”

Benafsha, who has spent decades campaigning for people with disabilities in Afghanistan, has received aid money from the US. This made her a potential target for the Taliban.

As the insurgents approached Kabul more than two weeks ago, she went into hiding with her husband.

They spent days hiding out in Kabul as it fell to the Taliban. She snuck out three times to join the crush at the Hamid Karzai International Airport, where thousands were evacuated. With the help of the Danes and the British, they eventually made it out.

It’s estimated that 14% of the Afghan population are severely disabled.

In the mid-2000s, a study found that the majority of Taliban suicide bombers were disabled, indicative, perhaps, of the stigma around disability in Afghan society.

There is also a religious notion that disability signifies some sort of punishment for past sins.

Asked about the new regime’s approach to people with disabilities, the Talilban’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Channel 4 News: “For orphans, the disabled, widows and all those people who have been affected by war, we have to gather aid for them and distribute it to them.

“And we will look into their education and affairs. This is the responsibility of the state.”

Benafsha is unconvinced by the Taliban’s rhetoric. She wants Western governments to redouble efforts to get disability activists out.

Asked if she had any hope for the future of Afghanistan, she said: “Honestly, no. There is no hope.”