Professor at Kabul's American university relieved to be back in France

Victoria Fontan was evacuated following the Taliban’s takeover. “They won't kill everyone, they need educated people to govern but they're going to kill enough to make the others behave,” she said

28 August 2021

Victoria Fontan, a university professor who has just been evacuated from Afghanistan, with her daughter Hermine on Nice’s popular Promenade des Anglais Pic: Eric Ottino / Nice Matin

Victoria Fontan is back in her home of Nice, having just been evacuated from Kabul in the midst of chaos.

A week ago, she was risking her life in Afghanistan, refusing to leave before getting as many students as possible to safety.

The 45-year-old vice-president of academic affairs at the American University of Afghanistan was pulled out of Kabul on Saturday (August 21). She slept on a cot at the airport, eating rations from the French army.

She arrived in Nice the following day, accompanied by her friend Darren, the university's deputy director of security,

"We're happy to have slipped through the cracks,” she said.

“I'm happy to be here, even if it feels weird. This morning I went for a run along the promenade, but since I got home I've been glued to my desk for 12 hours a day."

This week, she watched on from Nice with concern as a series of explosions outside Kabul's international airport were announced.

For the past two and a half years, Ms Fontan, originally from the Ille-et-Vilaine department in Brittany, has been looking after the 950 students of the university, who come from 34 Afghan provinces.

The university was attacked in 2016. Twelve people lost their lives.

Ms Fontan, who is also an associate professor of peace and conflict studies at the university, admits she "didn't see the Taliban's lightning takeover coming".

Her campus is now in the hands of the group.

She posted a photo on Twitter last Friday (August 20) of a young Taliban gunman posing for her with a smile.

"He could have been one of my students, maybe one day. Education changes lives, fosters peace, and more importantly, creates a safe environment for diversity and inclusion,” she wrote.

Now, 6,700 kilometres away in her flat in Nice, Ms Fontan has the difficult job of prioritising her students’ evacuations.

“I feel like I'm deciding people's lives or death. It's horrible,” she said.

The emails she receives from students break her heart. One wrote to say that she is not frightened of being killed, but of something worse.

"She is afraid of being tortured, humiliated in front of her family, of her body being left hanging from a lamppost for weeks. I get emails like that all day long,” Ms Fontan said.

She said that going forward, there will be deaths.

"There will be abuses, targeted assassinations, aimed at frightening or terrorising people.

“They won't kill everyone, they need educated people to govern. But they're going to kill enough of them to make the others behave,” she said.

Victoria is not giving up. She fights for Darren, her English friend, who was refused entry to Tunisia, where his girlfriend is.

She is already trying to prepare for the start of the new academic year at her university.

Her daughter, 14-year-old Hermine, supports her mother’s work and is proud of what she does.

Ms Fontan has also been able to count on the support of her partner, who runs an estate agency in Nice, and her friends back in Nice.

She notes bitterly that the Taliban have succeeded.

They will build a "Disneyland of terrorism", she said.

"We must continue to nurture Afghan dissidence in European countries so that the next generation is there.

“We must not abandon Afghanistan. We must show that all these years have been badly managed but that together we can do better. This is not the end.”

This article was originally published on the website of Nice-Matin on August 26 and was written by Grégory Leclerc

Related stories:

Afghan evacuee in France given 10-month suspended prison sentence

Criticism as mayor of Nice says city will not accept Afghan refugees

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