'We were constantly monitored,' says nun who escaped Afghanistan

Sister Shahnaz Bhatti was on the last evacuation flight to Italy.(Photo: Aid to the Church in Need)

A nun who escaped Afghanistan in the last airlift to Italy before the Taliban takeover has spoken of the fear she experienced in her final days in the country.

Sister Shahnaz Bhatti, originally from Pakistan, had been in Kabul since 2019 where she had been teaching children aged six to 10 living with Down's syndrome and other learning disabilities.

When the Taliban started taking over the city, she says they were forced to hide away in their building. 

"It was a very difficult time – we locked ourselves in the house as we were afraid," she told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

"For more than a year, there had been only two of us. As soon as it was possible, the religious sister who had been with me left and then I was alone until the end."

She described some of the challenges she had experienced in Afghanistan as a nun. 

"The Afghans consider all foreigners from the West to be Christians. We were constantly being monitored and were not permitted to display any religious symbols," she said.

"We religious sisters had to clothe ourselves like the local women, without the cross that symbolises who we are."

For Sister Bhatti, "the most trying thing" was not being able to move about freely because of the requirement that women be accompanied by a man in public. 

"But the suffering that made the greatest impression on me was when I saw women being treated as things. It was indescribably painful to see a young woman, forced against her will, to marry the man that the head of the family had chosen to be her husband," she said. 

Together with the nearby Missionaries of Charity and the disabled children that were under their care, she was able to get onto the last evacuation flight to Italy. 

"If the children had not been rescued, we would not have left," she said. 

The children are now being hosted by religious congregations in Italy, although Sister Bhatti fears their families back in Afghanistan are in great danger.

She added, "The journey to Kabul airport was arduous, it took us two hours and there was shooting, but in the end we made it."