BBC News, Kabul
Thousands of people fleeing violence in Afghanistan are desperate to find safety and make the most of their lives, but the ‘Tajik Corridor’ offers a remarkable option.
This is a road along the Pakistani border. It isn’t very long, only about 15 kilometres, but over time it has become a major thoroughfare for Afghans fleeing to safety across the border.
More than 4,500 people have crossed to safety via this road this year. Most have no cars or thatched huts and make their way on foot through the mountains towards the frontier.
During that journey, dozens of families have been reunited and welcomed by neighbours and Afghan elders who understand what they’re going through.
The journey will take weeks – long enough to see everything change once again.
Help the Afghan athletes or the children
The network of border stations along the Tajik Corridor is an extraordinary structure, worthy of time and attention.
It has been quietly helped by the people who live in the border villages, those who have been displaced by violence or refugees themselves.
A small window of time goes by to register these people, organise their safe passage and make sure they find safe shelter. It’s very slow, and time runs out.
I met the more than 86 athletes and officials and their families who were ready to leave. Their stories were completely different from that of the new arrivals, but their efforts to reunite and build a new life together brought them here.
This Kabul checkpoint was the spot where they were given permission to leave Afghanistan. Most of them arrived on foot, carrying only a thin blanket on their shoulders. This is a perilous journey, with many involved in it falling ill, and many dying on the way.
I can’t emphasize enough how devastating this journey is. The feelings of fear and helplessness can be unbearable. If it weren’t for the assistance provided by Afghan villagers, many of these people would have died on the way.
I spoke to a family whose son, Saad, a childhood friend of my husband’s, was leading the Gold Medal 2008 Taekwondo team in Kabul.
They had been staying in a guest house to avoid danger from the Taliban, so when Saad died on the journey out of Kabul, his parents had no choice but to leave their home.
One Afghan boy’s story
At a ceremony in Peshawar the ‘Tajik Corridor’ network was compared to the Berlin Wall, and the relatives of a six-year-old boy, Javaidullah, who has left his village as a refugee, offer one example of what is facing the people on this journey.
Javaidullah is the son of a teacher from a small village in Kunduz province. He left the village when the Taliban took control. The people there have suffered greatly and they need to go back and rebuild their lives.
When I met them here in Peshawar, Javaidullah was terrified of anyone from Kabul. The Afghan government sent them a truck for a safe journey to Kabul, but they wouldn’t leave the border station without him. His cousin Abid, a policeman, accompanied them through the mountains, to make sure they were safe.
His father said he didn’t want to lose his daughter, Abid’s mother, who had worked as a schoolteacher in Kabul and provided for his own family.
They had been trained in Mokhtarmati High School, which is famous in Afghanistan for its sports facilities and talent spotting system, but at the moment it is no longer functioning.
Javaidullah’s uncle says they are looking for accommodation and will try to return home as soon as they can.
Afghanistan is rapidly falling behind in the field of sports. What is needed is more training of talented young people and these people represent just one-fifth of what could be.
Anyone who cares about this country must give its children hope. Children of Afghanistan should be the focus of all the international aid and respect that comes their way.
The BBC is committed to the quality and unity of coverage of Afghanistan, and its commitment to do more stories on this subject is not only supported by the Afghan people but also by the international community.