Cuba hosts 57 Afghan refugees who had hoped to reach Iran

HAVANA, Cuba — Although security was stepped up at Havana’s airport to deter any potential escapees from Afghanistan, some 57 people bound for Iran remained in a secret refuge with the U.S. military here…

Cuba hosts 57 Afghan refugees who had hoped to reach Iran

HAVANA, Cuba — Although security was stepped up at Havana’s airport to deter any potential escapees from Afghanistan, some 57 people bound for Iran remained in a secret refuge with the U.S. military here after once escaping over the porous sands of the border.

The group, including 32 men and 33 women, largely fled from Afghanistan to a seaside village near the Panjshir River some five years ago but have chosen to continue hiding here in Cuba until next year, when they should again be free of the harsh Taliban rule. Most still speak Pashto, a language in which they cannot communicate with the international community.

According to one of the group’s members, Maj. Djamel Dembeli, in Baghdad during the military invasion of his country in 2003, the reclusive and secretive group decided to flee to Cuba after a series of failed escapes.

“After we got stuck in Afghanistan,” said Dembeli, his voice still sometimes trembling with emotion, “we went into hiding in the mountains, waiting for the right moment to finally get out.”

As Dembeli spoke to the Post in Havana, a group of other Afghans under military guard arrived at the airport and were transferred separately to a military base nearby. Two dozen were under so much guard they had to pass through a metal detector several times and were taken to separate holding pens. No one was allowed to go anywhere until they were cleared.

Dembeli described how he and the others formed a huddle of terror when the two planes that were supposed to be carrying them were delayed over concerns that “one of the planes would have a problem.” The second jet was delayed for about 90 minutes.

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