Afghan students graduate in Iraqi Kurdistan after Taliban takeover
A week before she left Afghanistan in October 2021, Shakila Mohammadi visited her hometown on a short break from university.
"At that time I did not know that this was the last time I could visit my favorite place," the 22-year-old law student said from Sulaimaniyah, in Iraq's Kurdistan region, where she has been living since.
"But on the day of our evacuation, when I said goodbye to my mother and father, I realised that I would not be able to see them for a very long time", she said.
Since the Taliban took over Kabul in August 2021, girls have largely been banned from going to secondary school.
The campus of Afghanistan's American university was closed and its students were left uncertain of their future.
"I anticipated that my education would literally end," said Esmatullah Sahak, another Afghan student in Sulaimaniyah.
After several weeks of online studies, Mohammadi and Sahak were offered the chance to travel to Iraqi Kurdistan to continue their education at the American University of Iraq Sulaimani.
They said they were worried at first, citing Iraq's long history of conflict. "I was really afraid to come here. I thought I was not going to a better place," Mohammadi said.
As she settled down in northern Iraq's Kurdistan region, usually considered more stable than other parts of Iraq, Mohammadi said her fears quickly disappeared and she felt at peace.
Of the 110 Afghan students who travelled to Sulaimaniyah to complete their studies, 32 graduated in the beginning of June, including Mohammadi and Sahak.
Now, with their bachelor degree in their pocket, they want to complete their master's degrees abroad, hoping to one day be able to return home.
To Sahak, the opportunity of completing his studies is a privilege that drove his choice to become a teacher.
Mohammadi hopes to become a lawyer and "show the community and society that girls can practice law internationally".
According to the UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, Afghans make up one of the largest refugee populations worldwide. There are 2.6 million registered Afghan refugees, of whom 2.2 million are registered in Iran and Pakistan alone.