A religious Sister who worked in Afghanistan has described the struggle getting severely disabled children on the final airlift to Italy after the Taliban takeover.
Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Sister Shahnaz Bhatti – who had been working in Kabul since 2019, teaching children aged 6-10 living with Down’s Syndrome and other learning disabilities – described the terror that gripped the country when the extremists seized control.
The Sister of Charity of Saint Jeanne-Antide Thouret, who originally comes from Pakistan, said: “It was a very difficult time – we locked ourselves in the house as we were afraid.
“For more than a year, there had been only two of us. As soon as it was possible, the religious Sister who had been with me left and then I was alone until the end.”
On her own in a country under Taliban control, Sister Bhatti was only able to leave the country when she helped the nearby Missionaries of Charity get the young people they were caring for airlifted out of Afghanistan.
She said: “I helped our neighbours, the Sisters of Mother Teresa, and their 14 children with severe disabilities get on the last flight to Italy before the attacks.
“If the children had not been rescued, we would not have left.”
The young people are now being hosted by religious congregations in Italy. Their families have remained in touch, but are still in serious danger, according to Sister Bhatti.
Sister Bhatti paid tribute to the organisations that helped them to leave, including the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Red Cross “which helped us get to the airport” and Father Giovanni Scalese, superior of the Catholic Mission in Afghanistan, “who did not leave our side until we left”.
She said “The journey to Kabul airport was arduous, it took us two hours and there was shooting, but in the end we made it.”
They left Afghanistan on 25th August.
According to Sister Bhatti, life was difficult for Christians and other religious minorities in Afghanistan before the withdrawal of the West’s armed forces.
She said: “The Afghans consider all foreigners from the West to be Christians.
“We were constantly being monitored and were not permitted to display any religious symbols.
“We religious Sisters had to clothe ourselves like the local women, without the cross that symbolises who we are.”
Sister Bhatti also described the problems faced by all women in the country.
She said: “The most trying thing was not being able to move about freely, because as women, we always had to be accompanied by a man.”
She added: “But the suffering that made the greatest impression on me was when I saw women being treated as things. It was indescribably painful to see a young woman, forced against her will, to marry the man that the head of the family had chosen to be her husband.”
Interview conducted by Massimo Tubani