Bird featured in rare Afghan evacuations welfare story – NBC Chicago


The mynah bird whines from a new cage in the sunny living room of the French Ambassador to Abu Dhabi, far from his life as the pet of a young Afghan woman who has since taken refuge in France.

The talkative, yellow-billed “Juji” had a brief social media appearance, his story of surviving amid the frenzied evacuations from Taliban-led Afghanistan touched a worldwide audience.

As scorching scenes from the US-led airlift from Kabul after 20 years of war – like those of Afghans falling to their deaths after trying to cling to the wheels of a military transport plane – gripped the world, France has also been intensely involved in evacuating those who had risked their lives to cooperate with its government over the years.

French Ambassador Xavier Chatel was scrambling to support efforts at Al-Dhafra air base in the United Arab Emirates. Thousands of Afghan evacuees flooded the base near the UAE capital, as well as military bases across the region, to be examined by US, French and other authorities for 12 sweltering days in August.

“There were a lot of exhilarating stories because there were artists, there were musicians, there were people who were so relieved they could be evacuated,” Chatel told The Associated Press on Sunday. from his residence overlooking the turquoise waters of the Persian Gulf. “But at the same time, there was also a surge of distress. ”

Some 2,600 Afghan performers, artists, journalists, activists and military contractors rushed on flights from Kabul to Abu Dhabi en route to Paris with barely time to think about all they had left behind. French authorities began the evacuations about a year ago, with 2,400 people flown from Kabul in the months leading up to the fall, Chatel said.

Amid the chaos in Al-Dhafra, Chatel received a security alert. Officers, on the lookout for extremist threats from Al-Qaida and the Islamic State, discovered illegal cargo on board.

A woman under 20 appeared, holding a mysterious cardboard box. Inside was his beloved pet with severed wings – the famous talkative mynah, common in its range across Southeast Asia.

But due to health concerns, there was no way for her to take the little bird with her to Paris.

She was in tears, said Chatel, his body shaking. He declined to divulge details about the young woman and her situation for reasons of confidentiality, except to say that “she had lost everything. She had lost her country. She had lost her home, she had lost her life. “

Chatel’s story of what happened next took to Twitter last week and made Juji a minor sensation, providing an uplifting counterpoint to the economic and humanitarian crises plaguing Afghanistan in the midst of the take. Taliban control.

After receiving detailed instructions on Juji’s food preferences – cucumbers, grapes, slices of bread, and sometimes potatoes – Chatel decided to adopt the bird, promising that he would take good care of it.

The young woman found the ambassador on Twitter shortly after disembarking in France. At the start of a new life as a refugee, her main focus was on her pet stranded in the Arabian Peninsula.

Chatel responded with videos of Juji munching on fruit, hovering around his white cage and even learning French from his marble-floored living room. After chirping in Pashto during his first few days in Abu Dhabi, Juji had managed to say something akin to “Hello.”

“(The woman) told me something that still stays with me,” Chatel said. “The fact that the bird was still alive and being well cared for gave him faith and hope to start over.”

The exact reason the story was so eagerly adopted on social media remains a mystery, Chatel said. But there was no good news outside of Afghanistan during the anguished withdrawal of US and NATO forces.

A suicide bomber blew himself up at Kabul airport in late August, killing dozens of Afghans and 13 US servicemen, and those who managed to escape their homes for a new life abroad were struggling with feelings of confusion and guilt. With the country’s economy plummeting, ordinary people have struggled to survive.

At Al-Dhafra air base in August, you could see fear on people’s faces, Chatel said. The children were crying at the sound of the balloons bursting. A woman said she “forgot” her parents in a traumatic haze at Kabul airport. Parents arrived with stories of children they had abandoned.

Until Chatel can find a way to reunite Juji with his former owner, he said the black-winged bird remains a reminder to France of those frantic days – the courage of those embarking on a new life. and the emotional toll of so many left behind.

“In the middle of it,” Chatel said, “in the midst of these hundreds of people coming here, there was this girl and there was this bird.”

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