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Social networks in Afghanistan, a tool to flee the country

The evacuation of Afghanistan is over. At least, so say the official statements and the ‘pats’ on the back.

Since the Taliban army controlled the capital Kabul on Sunday, August 15, 20 years after the US occupation, chaos and haste have taken over. The flight from a country that, in just over two weeks, came under Taliban control. This has become the only priority for thousands of foreign and Afghan workers who had collaborated with the previous government and with the armies of the United States and its allies, such as Spain.

In this flight, the official channels have overlapped with dozens of informal alternatives. They have used all the technological means available to speed up the departure of a country in which the future does not look rosy. Especially for collaborationists and for anyone who moves away from the postulates of the new Islamic fundamentalist government. WhatsApp, social networks, email and even Google Forms have served to try to bring order out of chaos and find the exit doors.

A WhatsApp to flee Afghanistan

Some of these channels no longer work. They only stayed open for a few weeks. This is the case of this Google form, for example, which was used to organize the departure of Afghans who had their passport in order and could reach Kabul airport by their own means. And is that the official evacuation concluded August 31st.

It is difficult to know how many have left the country. According to Reuters calculations, just over 114,000 people have escaped, counting the majority of foreigners still working in Afghanistan. In the case of Spain, which concluded its operations on August 27, the evacuation was closed with the departure of more than 1,900 people, including workers, aid workers and family members, both Afghans and from other European Union countries.

Other channels are still open, like this form maintained by the No One Left Behind organization. Because there are many who have been left behind. In this case it is even more difficult to get reliable data, but according to the calculations of the ‘New York Times’, between 100,000 and 260,000 people remain in the country that they would meet the requirements to obtain a visa in a foreign country.

In the Spanish case, a few days ago more than a hundred former employees of the Spanish Agency for Development Cooperation (AECID) and their relatives sent a letter (published by ‘Eldiario.es’) to the Ministry of Foreign affairs They requested help to get out. After leaving their towns and cities of origin, they are hiding in Kabul waiting for a safe escape route to be offered.

There are many who are in this situation and the departures from the country now have unclear road maps. In the United Kingdom, where they recognize that at least 300 Afghan collaborators are still in the country, they have called this new evacuation ‘Dunkirk by WhatsApp’ (referring to the battle and the evacuation of Dunkirk, France, during World War II). The Ministry of Defense affirms that they have deployed a fortnight of coordinators in the neighboring countries. Each one will work on specific plans to organize the outings. Those who are still in the country will be contacted by means such as WhatsApp and other technological platforms.

What about communications now?

Kabul, capital of the country

Social networks have been another common tool to manage the evacuation until August 31. Since then, some channels have remained open. For example, in the United States the office of the

is using Twitter to provide their services to those who are still in the Asian country. The same continues to do , which keeps its contact channels open on social networks to help manage asylum requests.

The organization of young environmental activists Fridays for Future also maintains

, email and other platforms. They have the added problem that members of their organization do not always meet the requirements to apply for asylum. Still, they estimate that more than 250 activists and family members are still in Afghanistan. They fear retaliation from the government after years of struggle for climate and social justice and gender equality.

At this point it is worth asking: what is going to happen to communications in Afghanistan from now on? Until now, everyone in the country has been able to use social media and telecommunications without censorship. But it is not known how long this situation will last. Some local journalists assure that there have already been specific service outages in some parts of the territory. Other experts point out, however, that the internet will continue to function for one simple reason: the Taliban rely on social media to spread their messages internally and externally.

social media in Afghanistan

To this complex situation we must add the positioning of the technologies themselves. Facebook was the first to ban the dissemination of messages and protaliban accounts on their platforms. The problem now is that, if maintained over time, this decision could affect Afghans, since the Taliban government could decide to turn off Facebook and WhatsApp in the country in retaliation.

In the long term, telecommunications that want to escape the control and censorship of the new government will have to resort to other alternatives technological. Applications such as Briar or Bridgefy allow direct communication of two smartphones nearby via wifi or bluetooth. In addition, the sum of these contacts allows creating a kind of mesh network through which all users can communicate anonymously. Something like an internet off the internet. Indeed, Bridgefy was a regular tool during the 2019 Hong Kong protests.

Another option to maintain communication is to go back to the past and use SMS. The information of texting that operate over the telephone network is not encrypted. Still, apps like Silence (only available on Android) can always be used to protect data. The options remain many and the ways to maintain contact with those who are in Afghanistan and want to escape remain open. The exit doors, however, seem increasingly closed.

In Nobbot | Four journalists promote a manifesto in support of the Afghan population on social media

Images | Mohammad Rahmani, Andre Klimke, Farid Ershad, Marko Beljan

 
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