Rachel de Blas |

Madrid (EFE).- On August 2, 2021, Ahmad and Sofia landed in Barajas with their four youngest children. They left behind their home, their family and a country taken over by the Taliban, they knew it would not be easy, but almost 18 months later they do not regret it: “When I see my girls talk about their future, it gives me satisfaction, they have total freedom to decide It was what they wanted and what they deserved.

The Baloch family arrived in Spain on their own, a couple of weeks before the Government launched operation Antigone, which has allowed the evacuation of nearly 3,900 Afghans since August 2021 when the Taliban took power.

In an interview with EFE, Sofia and Ahmad, who has worked for the Spanish Administration for nearly 20 years, first with the troops and later as a translator at the Spanish embassy in Kabul, recount the circumstances of their arrival and their difficulties in finding work. and a flat in which to live independently.

“I had the possibility of going to other countries to request asylum, but I knew Spain, I had worked 18 years with Spaniards, I knew what they are like and I have always found my second home here,” admits Ahmad, who studied Hispanic Philology at the University of Kabul.

Afghan refugees tell their experience.
On August 2, 2021, Ahmad and Sofia landed in Barajas with their four youngest children. In the image, these Afghan refugees tell their experience. EFE/JP Gandul

Where to sleep until entering the reception system

His first hurdle upon arrival was where to stay. They could not afford a hotel, so thanks to a friend, they rented his house until they began to process their asylum application and were able to access the reception program managed by the Ministry of Inclusion in collaboration with various NGOs.

The reception system goes through an itinerary that can last between 18 months and two years, although there is a preliminary phase -which cannot exceed 30 days- in which the applicant’s profile is assessed to refer him to the most appropriate resource.

Then, the applicants go to a first stage of reception in centers, where they have covered all the basic needs, pocket money, legal assistance, Spanish courses and training and guidance for employment. It lasts six months, although it can be extended in the case of highly vulnerable profiles.

The next phase, the last, is that of autonomy, it is managed with financial aid so that refugees can rent their own home and be more autonomous.

Almost 2,500 Afghans cared for in the state network

Ahmad and his family are currently in phase one, the foster phase, although much more than the normal six months have elapsed. According to Migration data provided to EFE, there are currently 2,457 Afghans in the reception network: 286 are in the initial assessment phase, 1,419 remain in reception and 752 have passed to the autonomy phase.

The couple and their four children -two girls aged 16 and 14 and two boys aged 11 and 8- live in an apartment in a neighborhood in the southeast of Madrid provided by Accem (one of the NGOs that directly manage the reception refugees), since being a large family it was more difficult to accommodate them in a center.

“It is very difficult to leave your country, we left a house that had everything and when we got to the apartment there were only some beds and a sofa, little by little we have been buying things”, explains Sofia with a limited Spanish that she is learning in the courses to those who attend “Before I didn’t understand a word, now I understand a lot, although I speak little,” she says.

The asylum application of the six members of the family has been accepted, they have a residence permit for the next five years, the children have adapted to school, they have friends, they play soccer… but Ahmad, 46, and Sofia, 44, they can’t find work and at the end of March they have to leave the flat.

“We are in a very difficult situation, we cannot predict what will happen. I am not afraid of work, but with my training it is difficult to find a job. I have asked everything I could find, cleaning, bars… It is important to be able to be autonomous and cover all our expenses, in Spain it is difficult to maintain a large family. I’m not saying save, but make ends meet,” Ahmad explains.

Renting a flat: Mission impossible for refugees

Since last October they have been looking for a flat to rent because with the favorable asylum resolution they can move on to the autonomy phase, but the conditions “are difficult to meet”: exorbitant prices, impossible requirements and scarce supply.

The “tremendous difficulties” in finding a home is one of the most serious problems that Afghan refugees are encountering, and also Ukrainians, as the director of Projects at the Spanish Commission for Refugee Assistance (CEAR) warns EFE. , Monica Lopez.

Afghan refugees tell their experience.
On August 2, 2021, Ahmad and Sofia landed in Barajas with their four youngest children. In the image, Afghan refugees tell their experience. EFE/JP Gandul

As it happens to Ahmad and his family, when they cannot find a house to which they can move, they have to stay in the devices of the reception phase, which becomes a “handicap” for them to evolve in their inclusion itinerary .

López regrets that the phases are repeatedly broken and the entire process is delayed and that there are not enough places, especially when asylum is denied. «There is a lot of work to be done with the municipal social services. We try to ensure that people do not end up on the streets », he indicates.

Despite the difficulties, Ahmad is optimistic: “We are going to find a flat, it will take time, it will not be from today to tomorrow, but we are going to find it.” He is aware that his situation differs from that of many of his compatriots, who are also stuck in the first phase, but residing in reception centers in conditions very different from theirs.

“I give them a hand from time to time with translation issues or administrative procedures,” says Ahmad, who understands that these circumstances make them think about returning to their country. “It crosses their minds to leave everything and return, but to return to where, to hell they cannot return,” he asserts.

A thousand Afghans have given up their place

A year and a half after the evacuation of Afghan citizens by Spain, more than 954 have left the reception system, many of them to emigrate to third countries where they have family networks.

The Balochs do not think of going back to Afghanistan. When they left Kabul, Ahmad and Sofia told their children that they were going on vacation to Spain, they were going to show them the sea and the beach, and once here they raised the option of going to a new school and meeting new friends.

«Leaving everything suddenly and telling them that they are not going to see their friends, their cousins ​​for 10 years, was a shock. It was more difficult for my eldest daughter because she already knew where the shots were going, but small children are sponges and soon after they arrived they were already playing soccer with their new friends”, recalls Ahmad.

He was not willing for his children to live a childhood like his, accustomed to changes “overnight” because many governments have fallen during 40 years of conflict. “I prefer to have a normal life where they can choose their future,” he says.

“We left the country for the girls and when I see that they talk about their future, it gives me satisfaction, they have total freedom to decide, it was what they wanted and what they deserved,” says Ahmad proudly, who says that the first day when they arrived he told them his wife and daughters who were free to decide if they wanted to wear the veil or not.

That August 2, 2021, Sofia, who decided not to take it, and her husband set an objective: «Educate our children well to contribute good citizens to Spanish society. From there, they will decide their future, “says the couple.

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