Afghan refugees gather in a playground at the Park View Villas in Qatar's capital Doha© KARIM JAAFAR Afghan refugees gather in a playground at the Park View Villas in Qatar’s capital DohaDespite an uncertain future, the Afghans of Doha’s Park View Villas insist there is no way they will go back to their homeland under the Islamist hardliners, no matter what the new rulers say.Since August, more than 75,000 Afghans have passed through the Gulf emirate that brokered a peace deal between the Taliban and the United States and remains a key intermediary in the Taliban’s difficult links to the outside world.

The villas were built to house officials for this year's football World Cup© KARIM JAAFAR The villas were built to house officials for this year’s football World CupOne hundred Afghans are now at Park View, a compound built to house officials for this year’s football World Cup. Two hundred others were moved this week to a nearby US camp for processing to be relocated to the United States.

Thamina Heerawie, a 22-year-old Afghan refugee, says she prefers life in the Doha villas to Taliban rule© Anne LEVASSEUR Thamina Heerawie, a 22-year-old Afghan refugee, says she prefers life in the Doha villas to Taliban ruleThe villas opened following criticism of facilities at an emergency camp on a US military base after the tidal wave of evacuations started.

The compound’s streets resemble a quiet US neighbourhood.

Its weekly dance party was buzzing after Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid declared on Sunday that the Taliban believed thousands of Afghans were “living in very bad conditions” in Qatar and Turkey.

The residents beg to differ.

“I can walk here. I feel safe,” Thamina Heerawie, 22, told AFP during a break from volunteer work at the Park View nursery school, a rowdy focal point of compound life.

“The situation here is much better than being at home and suffering over your dark future in Afghanistan.”

She said she would “definitely” go back to Afghanistan — if the Taliban were not ruling.

– Dance parties –

The Taliban regained power in August with a lightning offensive that capped a two-decade insurgency against a Western-backed government supported by a US-led international force.

Mujahid indicated airlifts had been definitively halted, though he later backtracked on suggestions Afghans would be barred from leaving.

The flights effectively ended on December 1 with little sign of a resumption despite international pressure.

Heerawie was one month away from graduating in accountancy when the Taliban took Kabul, depriving most girls of their education, though main universities reopened in February.

She was among the 200 moved to the US camp this week and hopes to find a university in America.

The Afghans can only leave Park View on guided day trips to parks, museums and sports events.

But after at least four months, the wait for a permanent home has become stressful.

Authorities have opened a mental health clinic to help them cope.

Mia Kamal Ud Din, a carpet maker who fled with his family, said the uncertainty played on the minds of many.

“It is a little bit difficult but they look after us very well and we don’t have problems living here. It is just that we do not have a permit to go outside,” he said.

– ‘Very last child’ –

Kamal Ud Din insisted the Taliban have no idea about their conditions.

Another resident, Abdullah, who gave only one name, said the Taliban “just don’t want people to leave” Afghanistan.

Nearly all residents interviewed said they had heard grim accounts of conditions back home.

The Qatari government has also questioned the Taliban comments, though Doha remains a hub for the Taliban, who have used it for talks with international envoys as they bid to unblock much-needed aid for the country.

In comments to AFP, a Qatari official stressed the “pivotal role” the country has played in the peace deal, helping those who had left and sending hundreds of tonnes of aid to Afghanistan.

Qatar and Turkey are however negotiating with the Taliban to run Afghanistan’s airports.

The United States said it would be “relentless” in its efforts to help those with the proper papers leave Afghanistan.

“Our ability to facilitate relocation for our Afghan allies also depends on the Taliban living up to its commitment of free passage,” a State Department spokesperson in a statement.

While the Park View numbers are shrinking, there is no date yet to hand the villas over to football’s world body, FIFA.

The nursery school, where a farewell party for children heading to the US base was held with cakes and soda drinks, will be quieter.

But it will stay open “until the very last child has gone”, said Sarah Champa al-Dafa, a chief organiser.


Afghan evacuees prefer life in Qatar to Taliban rule (