Dr Liza Schuster is concerned that Western governments who promised they would never abandon Afghans have done just that
Dr Liza Schuster has spent most of the past decade conducting fieldwork in Afghanistan, where she was based at the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University (ACKU).
During the past couple of months, as the Taliban gained control of the country following the withdrawal of western military forces, Dr Schuster was evacuated on a military flight to Paris. But, with conditions for women and girls, ethnic minorities and those who worked with foreign governments and agencies already deteriorating, she remains deeply concerned for Afghan friends and colleagues still in the country.
Since leaving, Dr Schuster has spent much of her time trying to help others to reach safety. As part of this effort, she has been doing a large number of media interviews to try and ensure the story stays prominent in the national and international news agenda. Or, in her words, “in the hope of keeping the sympathy going” so that those in need of protection will not be forgotten.
Most striking among a catalogue of media coverage was Dr Schuster’s appearance on ITV’s Tonight: The Return of the Taliban programme, where she spoke with great emotion about her fears for her associates and the lengths she would go to in order to get them out, noting that for most Afghans it is impossible to leave without the help of smugglers.
"All of those people are now extremely worried and very frightened," she said. "The Taliban are already going to people's homes – they know who these people are. At the moment they are questioning them and taking documents, and they're also looking for official vehicles.
“I don't know what's going to happen to them. And I have no way of getting them out.
"I would pay every penny I had to get them out now. I am very afraid for them."
Later the same week, Dr Schuster gave an interview to Sky News, during which she criticised governments for choosing to believe the Taliban’s propaganda that it has, as a movement, become less hard-line. Sadly, events in the past weeks, in particular the brutal reaction to women’s protests, underline the unchanging attitude of the Taliban.
She also said that if people had listened to Afghans, they would have seen the Taliban’s takeover coming a lot sooner.
And in another interview with an academic, Dr Burcu Ozcelik, for Syndication Bureau, Dr Schuster spoke of the shock and disappointment that Afghans are experiencing. She said:
And most recently, Dr Schuster spoke to Byline Times about the frustrations she faced in her efforts to help colleagues and friends flee Afghanistan to safety.
She said: "I’m so angry with the UK Government but also with the European Union, which should be loudly telling European countries, ‘we have a responsibility to the people who have worked with us’.”
Dr Schuster’s colleague in the Department of Sociology, Professor Jo Littler, tweeted: “Proud of my colleague Liza Schuster calling out the UK government for exaggerating its tradition of protecting refugees whilst failing to do so.”
With Afghan colleagues who have managed to reach the UK, France and Sweden, Dr Schuster is continuing to write up their research on Afghan migration and the response of European states, and to support Afghan diaspora scholars.
She is grateful for the support of organisations such as CARA (the Council for At Risk Academics), SAR (Scholars at Risk), and PAUSE (Programme National d’Acceuil en Urgence des Scientifiques en Exil) who are supporting these colleagues.
About Dr Liza Schuster
Dr Schuster has studied the consequences of deportation for Afghans, their families and communities. Her work in collaboration with Afghan colleagues at ACKU, included an examination of representations of migration in Afghan Oral Culture, a study of the Hopes, Plans and Fears of Afghan Families, and an exploration of the influence of the EU on the development of Afghan Migration Policy.
Dr Schuster prepares expert reports on Afghanistan for Immigration tribunals in the UK, and across Europe and contributes to debates on migration in several countries.
Dr Schuster originally came to City in September 2005 from the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society at Oxford University. Before that she was TH Marshall Fellow at the London School of Economics working on a comparative project that explored processes of inclusion and exclusion in four European states: Britain, France, Germany and Italy. Since then, she has offered critiques of access to the EU, British, French and Greek asylum systems, and developed a focus on deportation, examining the European returns directive, and the impact of deportation on those returned to Afghanistan.