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Qatar helps tens of thousands of Afghans flee the Taliban

Two months after the Taliban re-took Afghanistan, thousands of Afghans continue to flee the country on evacuation flights organized by the government of Qatar. Young and old, they consider themselves the lucky ones, and carry just a few precious possessions with them as they take a chance at new lives abroad, away from the extremist group.

Nabi Roshan, one of the country’s most popular comedians, is among those fleeing. Before the Taliban takeover, he hosted a nightly TV show where no jokes were off limits, including ones about the group.

Now, after he received death threats, he and his family are on the run.

Getting out of Afghanistan

Evacuation flights are being organized with meticulous precision by the government of Qatar.

The tiny Persian Gulf kingdom has played an oversized role in helping more than 70,000 people flee Afghanistan since the U.S. withdrawal two months ago, in stark contrast to the chaos that followed immediately after the Taliban seized power.   

In one of the many paradoxes of the new Afghanistan, boarding the same flight as Nabi Roshan to the Qatari capital, Doha, were senior members of the Taliban government, traveling to meet with Chinese officials.

The interim foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, spoke to CBS News in his first interview with a U.S. network.

“We want a positive relationship with the world, including the U.S. … but we will not accept the military presence of any country. We only welcome diplomatic and economic ties,” he said.

When asked for his thoughts on the Afghans fleeing the country on the same flight as him, Muttaqi said that was their choice.

“If they want to leave, they can leave,” he said. “In our government, all Afghans, whether they agree or disagree with our policies, are free.”

Losing rights under the Taliban

Despite Muttaqi’s claims, many Afghans would rather the uncertainty of leaving than the supposed “freedoms” of the Taliban regime. The people who flee to Qatar are housed by the government in temporary accommodations, before departing for their final destinations in Europe, the U.S., or beyond.

Roshan says, after arriving at the accommodation in Doha, he feels a sense of relief watching his children play for the first time in three months.

“In Kabul, I want to go to take oxygen. Now, I am feeling oxygen in Qatar,” he said.

Nofe al Suwaidi, who is head of operations at the reception facility for Afghans, which provides free groceries and other services, said helping people fleeing the Taliban was humbling.

“You get connected, everyone that’s here, you feel like you’re such a part of everyone’s story,” al Suwaidi told CBS News. “It’s also hard sometimes to hear what everyone has been through, to hear everyone’s story. But we’re so glad that everyone’s been so gracious, everyone’s been so receptive of everything. They’ve shown us in a lot of ways how much they appreciate everything.”

Many Afghans in Doha told CBS News that, while they were grateful for the shelter of the Qatari government, they had not wanted to leave their homes.

But after 20 years of war, the Taliban appears relatively unchanged. As they tighten their grip on  power, basic freedoms are being stripped away: Most women have been barred from going to work, and girls over 12 years old are no longer allowed to go to school. Minorities have been locked out of the interim government. Which is why Nabi Roshan, and many other of Afghanistan’s best and brightest, are leaving.

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