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Afghan residents in Japan reflect on uncertainty at home from a distant land

Zadran is seen driving a forklift at his job, in the city of Bando, Ibaraki Prefecture, on Sept. 24, 2021. He has not been able to return home to Afghanistan for two years, and has yet to meet his 1-year-old son Wahid. He has advised his family to refrain from leaving the house while the direction of the Taliban administration remains obscure. "I'm concerned about where it will head," he said. (Mainichi/Masahiro Ogawa)

TOKYO -- It's been two months since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan. While the Taliban is stressing that it has softened its approach, the situation in the country is still unclear. According to the Immigration Services Agency of Japan, as of the end of 2020 there were about 3,500 Afghans living in Japan. The Mainichi Shimbun went to meet some of those people witnessing the turmoil in their home country while living in a far-off land.

    "I want to hold my son, soon," said a dejected-sounding Zadran who is 27 and works at an automobile-related firm in the city of Bando in east Japan's Ibaraki Prefecture. He came to Japan two years ago, but his wife, their four children and his parents all live in the suburbs of Kabul. The coronavirus pandemic last year meant he could not return home even once. Now, he says, "I want to go home but I don't know if I'll be able to come back to Japan." He can only talk to his family via voice apps, and is yet to meet his 1-year-old son. "I want to go home soon and see them. But all I can do is wait" (for the turmoil to end), he said.

    Saleh Mohammad Menzai is seen with a stern expression as he looks at his office computer, in Bando, Ibaraki Prefecture, on Sept. 24, 2021. For four to six hours a day he reads news from Afghanistan and its neighboring nations in four or more languages, and follows the changes in his home country. (Mainichi/Masahiro Ogawa)

    The auto company is run by Saleh Muhammad Menzai, 50, who came to Japan more than 20 years ago and takes care of the Afghan workers. His employees are concerned about their family members back home. Menzai, too, has a 28-year-old son who grew up in Japan. His son went back to Kabul for half a year to marry, but hasn't been able to return. Although his son is among the people subject to evacuation by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, progress has not been made, and they don't know when he will be able to return.

    Ashraf Baburi prepares dried fruit for dispatch, in the city of Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, on Sept. 8, 2021. He began his business four years ago as a way to support women in Afghanistan working as farmers. Baburi, who remembers the previous Taliban administration, is watching to see if the current government will truly protect women's rights and people's safety. "I want them (the Taliban) to help the people of Afghanistan," he said. (Mainichi/Masahiro Ogawa)

    Ashraf Baburi 39, came to Japan 12 years ago and lives in the city of Matsudo in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo. He wanted to change the image that Afghan women can't work, and launched Afghan Saffron, a business that imports and sells dried fruit prepared by women. After the Taliban seized control of the government, he temporarily lost contact with around 30 households he had farming contracts with, and he immediately called for support on social media. In September, he sent flour and other food supplies to Afghanistan. Baburi said, "I don't want the country to return to the dark place it was in 20 years ago. I want women's rights, in particular, to be protected, and for women to be able to lead independent lives."

    Menzai reflected, "The people are tired of wars." Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the country has seen continued war on its soil. There are also serious issues around rising prices and food supply shortages. "I don't want the international community to easily acknowledge the Taliban provisional government," Menzai said, adding with an impassioned look, "It'll be getting colder over there from now. They need support with food supplies and medical care. I want people to pay attention to the Afghan people suffering now."

    (Japanese original by Masahiro Ogawa, Photo Group)

    In Photos: Afghans in Japan concerned about homeland situation

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