Many Afghan television and film workers haven been left jobless and in hiding, some of them feel abandoned by TV and entertainment industry in other countries, nearly six months after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan.
A handful of these workers former international colleagues have been fighting to get them to safety, and they said they desperately need more support.
Rahima*, a screenwriter, said she was in the middle of teaching a university class when she learned that the Taliban had entered Kabul. She and a female colleague ran out to buy burkas, only to find the shops already closed. She went home and locked herself inside. She has stayed in hiding for the past five and a half months, she said.
“In our neighborhood, everyone recognizes me as a woman activist, the university teacher and TV employee,” Rahima said through a translator.
Other former media workers described rushing to scrub their Facebook profiles and concealing or throwing out anything in their house that would link them to the entertainment industry.
“They’re hiding their cameras, mics, and booms, every single thing,” said Farjaad, a longtime TV producer based in Kabul. One film-maker friend buried her camera “in the earth, like a grave”, he said.
Abdul, who worked for a decade as an assistant director and producer, now runs a small food stand to support his family, including his 10-month-old baby. Based in a city full of Taliban checkpoints, he is still afraid that someone will recognize him from his work in TV. Fearful of the risk, he sometimes sends his younger brother to run the food stall instead.
Sometimes, he said, when he thinks back on the past 20 years of his life, he can’t believe they happened: “Was it sleep? Or a dream? What was that?
“We are looking for help but there’s nobody to help us,” he said.
Sayed, who faced multiple threats from the Taliban during years of working in marketing and sales for TV networks, escaped to Pakistan with his family, but is still jobless and feels at risk.
“I haven’t heard anything from Hollywood over what is happening with the media people who worked here for 20 years, fighting for the freedom of speech,” he said. “No one from Hollywood, none of the TV or film-makers, are raising their voice.”
Julie Brown, an American development worker, and Muffy Potter, an Australian TV and film producer, said they have been working for months to help their former Afghan colleagues get visas to leave the country.
Some of the TV programming the two had worked on in Afghanistan in the early 2010s had been directly funded by foreign governments, such as Eagle Four, a crime drama modelled on 24 that had been publicly identified as an American-funded attempt to increase citizens’ willingness to trust the police.
“They helped get a message of democracy, of women’s rights, of governance, to the people, and now they’re left behind living under the regime that they have spent a lot of time doing anti-Taliban messaging about,” said Potter.
“When we say, ‘We will stand by you, we have your back, we’ll stand shoulder to shoulder’, that’s an actual person telling an Afghan that, not just a faceless government entity,” said Brown. “We feel like we betrayed them.”
Brown and Potter estimated their group of about five volunteers was trying to help several hundred Afghans who are still inside the country, including former colleagues and their family members.
“A lot of the ones that are left are the ones that don’t have rich families,” Potter said. “People that don’t have any kind of connections overseas and didn’t have a financial means to seek asylum.”
Some have been denied visas, they said. Others have seen their applications held up in the state department’s bureaucracy.
Meanwhile, the situation for many former TV workers has only grown more desperate. Since July, Brown said, she has spent time every day working across time zones to get her former colleagues food, secure places to stay, even medical care, including finding a way to get a pregnant woman an emergency C-section. “A lot of them are in danger,” she said.
Amid a worsening economic crisis, half of Afghans are facing “extreme” levels of hunger, according to the United Nations. International medical experts have warned of severe shortages of basic supplies at public hospitals. (Source: The Guardian)
* All the names of Afghan TV workers have been changed for this article.