Migrants gather near a fence at a temporary detention center in Kazitiskis, Lithuania, August 12, 2021. REUTERS/Janis Laizans
By Gabriela Baczynska
KAZITISKIS, Lithuania (Reuters) - As Taliban fighters seized a series of provincial cities across Afghanistan, thousands of kilometres away in a makeshift refugee camp in eastern Lithuania, former Afghan soldier Fazel Rahman looked back on a war he abandoned two months ago.
He said he had been warned by Taliban sympathizers in his home village that his life would be in danger unless he joined them, but he didn't see that as an option so he decided to follow the path that tens of thousands of other Afghans have already taken and make his way to Europe.
"The situation in our country has got worse. The Taliban killed my cousin," said Fazel Rahman, who served for 15 years in the Afghan army. "I fled with my kids because they threatened me, warning me to leave my duty."
Now waiting in a former school building in the village of Kazitiskis in the Ignalina region of Lithuania, he has found himself in the middle of a standoff between Belarus and the European Union.
The EU accuses Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko of using the refugee crisis to pressure the bloc to reverse sanctions it placed on the country over a disputed presidential election last August and its treatment of political opposition.
With the Afghan capital Kabul now close to being besieged by the Taliban after a lightning campaign that followed the withdrawal of most U.S. forces last month, politicians in Europe are becoming increasingly concerned that more irregular migrants like Fazel Rahman may come.
The European Union border agency Frontex has already noted an increase in people coming from Afghanistan and Syria through the Western Balkans.
Hanging around with about 130 others in a metal enclosure outside the former school building, Fazel Rahman waits, chatting with others as laundry dries on the fence and children play in the dust and mud.
The camp is fitted with foldout beds and showers, and it provides a temporary haven from the harsh journey, during which he said he was beaten severely by border guards.
"Even in a war, soldiers don't treat people like I was treated," he said.