More than 100 students, teachers and alumni of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music have reportedly fled from Kabul following the Taliban’s takeover of the country — and plan to settle in Portugal, where they have been granted asylum.
The group, about half of which is women and girls, arrived in Qatar’s capital, Doha, on Sunday and planned to continue on to Portugal, the institute’s founder and director, Ahmad Sarmast, told the Associated Press from his home in Melbourne, Australia.
“You cannot imagine how happy I am. Yesterday I was crying for hours,” he said, adding that the success of their evacuation had been in doubt until the last second.
Taliban militants at the Kabul airport questioned the evacuees’ visas before Qatari embassy officials were able to resolve the problem. The group was then told it could not leave the country with temporary “service passports,” which are usually issued to officials, according to Agence France-Presse.
“My understanding is that it was not so much of the type of the passports but that the girls were fleeing the country,” Sarmast told AFP.
But once again, the Qatari officials managed to negotiate the passage of the musicians, many of whom were from the all-female Zohra orchestra.
“It was a time of many tears. I was crying endlessly. My family were crying together with me. That was the happiest moment in my entire life,” Sarmast said. “The feeling and the happiness when I heard that their plane took off the ground is very hard to describe.”
The Taliban, who banned music during their brutal rule from 1996 to 2001, swept back to power Aug. 15, promising a more moderate kind of rule this time. But they have made it clear they will run the country within the restrictive limits of their interpretation of Sharia law.
The musicians join tens of thousands of Afghans who have fled, including the country’s female robotics team — known as the “Afghan Dreamers” — and members of a girls’ soccer team, who resettled in Mexico and Portugal, respectively.
Sarmast said he hopes remaining students and faculty members will be leaving on another flight out later this month.
He plans to recreate the school in Portugal and is already looking for ways to obtain musical instruments for the evacuees as soon as possible.
“We want to preserve the musical tradition of Afghanistan outside of Afghanistan, so that we can be sure that one day when there are better conditions in the country, hundreds of professional musicians would be ready to return and relight the music,” he told the AP.