Afghanistan sees largest evacuation airlift since leaving the United States, all connected to a music school


In what was declared the largest Afghan refugee airlift since leaving the United States on September 1, more than 100 Afghan National Institute of Music students, alumni and faculty were evacuated from Kabul and are on their way to Portugal.

The director of the institute said on Monday that the Portuguese government had agreed to grant asylum to the group. They left on Sunday on a flight carrying 235 passengers from Kabul International Airport in Qatar, the largest rescue elevator for Afghan nationals in two weeks before the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from the country.

“You can’t imagine how happy I am. Yesterday I cried for hours,” said school founder and principal Ahmad Sarmast from his home in Melbourne, Australia.

About 100 passengers, including Americans, arrived in Doha after leaving Kabul airport on September 9, the first flight carrying foreigners since the conclusion of the US-led airlift on August 30. Above, evacuees from Afghanistan arrive at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar, the first flight carrying foreigners out of the Afghan capital since the US withdrawal was concluded on September 9.
KARIM JAAFAR / AFP / Getty Images

For more Associated Press reporting, see below.

The musicians join tens of thousands of Afghans, including many of the country’s sportsmen and artists, who have fled since August. Among those recently evacuated are the Afghanistan Women’s Robotics Team, known as the “Afghan Dreamers,” and a women’s soccer team that relocated to Mexico and Portugal, respectively.

The last time the Taliban ruled the country, in the late 1990s, they banned music altogether. So far, the new Taliban government has not officially taken this step. But musicians fear a formal ban will come. Some Taliban fighters have started to enforce the rules themselves, harassing musicians and concert halls.

Afghanistan has a strong musical tradition, influenced by classical Iranian and Indian music, and a thriving pop music scene has flourished over the past 20 years.

The Afghan National Institute of Music, founded by Sarmast in 2010, was once famous for its inclusiveness and emerged as the face of a new Afghanistan, performing to crowded audiences in the United States and Europe.

Now its classrooms are empty, its campus guarded by fighters from the Haqqani network, a Taliban ally considered a terrorist group by the United States. The teachers and 350 students have not returned to school since the Taliban took power.

About 50 female students were on the flight on Sunday, most of them members of the all-female Zohra orchestra, in addition to former students, teachers and relatives. The 101 group represents about a third of the ANIM community.

Sarmast is now planning to recreate the school in Portugal, so that students can continue their education with minimal interruptions, and is already looking for ways to get them musical instruments as soon as possible. He hopes the remaining students and faculty will depart on another flight later this month.

“We want to preserve the musical tradition of Afghanistan outside of Afghanistan, so that we can be sure that one day when conditions are better in the country, hundreds of professional musicians will be ready to come back and rekindle the music. music, ”he said.

“The mission is not over, it has just started.”


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