After graduating top of her class in a law and political sciences degree in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2021, Safora Mohammadi had dreams of going on to become a diplomat, representing her country abroad in Europe.
Coming from a middle-class family in the southwest province of Ghazni, Mohammadi had “a good life and a nice home”.
“I grew up in Kabul, which was better than other provinces in Afghanistan in terms of opportunities for work and education. My family are very open-minded and always helped me and supported me, especially my father, who is a big advocate for girls’ education,” she explains.
Mohammadi’s father sent her and her sister to “a very good school and then to university to complete our education”.
‘Irish English is very different. I learn a phrase and build it into my sentences – Ah sure look or The craic was mighty’
“I always wanted to be a diplomat. I was hoping to work for the ministry of foreign affairs. I had many dreams to serve my country,” she says.
At her university, she “always had the highest score” in her class and her professors “had a hard time finding faults in my papers”. But in August 2021, her life changed overnight.
Mohammadi woke as usual on August 15th and went to her office in Kabul city where she worked for a Dutch non-governmental organisation (NGO). By 10am, she and her colleagues were told “the president has escaped, and the city has fallen to the Taliban”.
She recalls a “cold feeling of anger, anxiety and fear going up and down my back”.
“I felt as if I was thrown from the 21st floor of a building... My beautiful city, Kabul, was occupied by the black force of evil,” she says.
“People started to run and tried to get back home by whatever means they could. The chaos in the city was unprecedented. People left their vehicles in the crowd and got back home by walking. Law and order were non-existent.”
Mohammadi recalls, for the first time in her life, crossing paths with Taliban fighters with “long dirty hair and bushy beards” as she tried to get home that day.
“Looking at them was impossible. Being educated girls, my sister and I feared for our lives,” she says. She also worried about her father, who worked for a well-known human rights organisation at the time.
Very quickly, it became “quite hard for girls to even go outside to go to school, university or work”.
“My life was completely changed,” she says.
Within one week, Mohammadi’s father had secured visas for the family to flee to Ireland, with the help of his workplace which had a headquarters in Washington DC. But Kabul was “completely taken over” and the airport was “impossible to travel through”.
I really miss my home, my city, my relatives, and most of all my brother and my grandmother. Afghanistan is unlivable for people like me
Leaving Afghanistan with “just a pair of shoes and the clothes we were wearing”, Mohammadi began a month-long journey to get to Ireland.
“My family and I went several times to the airport but we weren’t able to travel that way. We eventually managed to go to Pakistan and we stayed there for about 15 days and then went through the United Arab Emirates [UAE] to get to Ireland,” she says.
“It’s been a year and a half since we arrived in Ireland. But my brother is still in Afghanistan. I really miss my home, my city, my relatives, and most of all my brother and my grandmother. Afghanistan is unlivable for people like me,” she says.
“Women are suffering a lot in Afghanistan. Children are going hungry because their parents don’t have money to feed them and sometimes the boy has to be fed more than the girl because the girl won’t be able to go and work and provide for the family.”
Child marriages have also increased “because of economic hardship for families”.
Mohammadi and her family have lived in the direct provision centre in Mosney, Co Meath since arriving in Ireland, which she says she found “scary” at first. It was difficult to settle in, and she worried what Irish people would think of her or how they would treat her in the local town.
“But I was wrong to worry. Everyone was very welcoming and kind to us,” she says.
Mohammadi’s priority was to find work and continue her career path in law and politics.
Without any laptop or internet in the centre, Mohammadi and her sister would go to an IT centre that opens in the evening to apply for jobs.
“It was hard at first. It can be very difficult to get a job when you are a refugee. Sometimes people only think of us as refugees. Sometimes I was shortlisted but then I was told I didn’t know the Irish context for the job. I felt very sad because how can I learn the Irish context if I don’t get any experience?” she says.
After many applications, she found an opportunity to intern at Eversheds Sutherland law firm in Dublin, while her sister found an opportunity at United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef).
I hope that someday I will be able to return to Afghanistan and live my dream of being a diplomat for my country
Mohammadi spent three months working in the HR department of Eversheds Sutherland before moving to the marketing team.
“I’m getting to know the Irish working environment now. It’s different for me from my work in Afghanistan but I’m learning every day and my colleagues are supporting and encouraging me,” she says.
The commute to and from the direct provision centre to Dublin can be exhausting, she says, and can sometimes prevent her from “fully” integrating in the capital and making friends.
“It’s about one hour from Dublin, every morning I take two buses each morning to get to my office, but sometimes the bus is full, and then we have to wait for one hour until the next one comes,” she says.
“It’s hard to make friends because I’m far away in Mosney and we can’t move out of there, because it’s too expensive for us to rent anywhere.”
For now, she is enjoying “learning and getting more experience” and hopes to “have a good life in Ireland”.
However, she says: “I hope that someday I will be able to return to Afghanistan and live my dream of being a diplomat for my country.”
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