Hundreds of students, relatives and staff from the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) are stuck in the country after evacuation attempts to reach Kabul’s airport on Sunday were unsuccessful.
Ian Bickford, President of AUAF, who was able to get out of the country on an earlier flight, told CNN’s New Day that the convoy at the weekend was “the last day of a two-week long effort to help our students relocate from Afghanistan to safe sites where they can continue their learning without fear.”
Bickford said, “Sunday was, we thought, our best hope. We organized a convoy of more than a dozen buses. Something like 500 students, close to 600 students, family, staff, faculty boarded those buses with the sincere hope that they would be given permission to enter the airport, board flights, and begin their journey to a better life.”
However, the college president said it became clear over the course of the day that the security situation at the airport was worsening, and “it was the best thing for us to ask our students to return home and stay safe.”
Bickford said the university had been attempting to relocate 1,200 students, educators and staff out of Afghanistan but the number of the wider AUAF community was much greater.
He said the AUAF “represents the brightest light of the American engagement in the country” and highlighted how the college was targeted by gunmen in a shocking 2016 attack that killed 13 people.
“The future of our students, our faculty in the country, our staff in the country remains unclear. We don’t know the level of persecution but it’s very important that they’re able to continue their studies so that they can bring their ambition, their optimism and their hope for Afghanistan back home, perhaps in the distant future, but still they’re very hopeful that their country will resume some level of free and fair civil society,” Bickford continued.
He said students had reported intimidating actions by the Taliban in recent days.
“Many report anything from harassing behavior, entering homes by the Taliban, asking who’s there, what they do, including whether they’re students at the American University of Afghanistan,” Bickford added.
“Some have received calls from people adopting fraudulent identities, claiming to be representatives of the university asking for identifying information. And others have received direct threats to life and safety.”