‘If I go out the Taliban will kill me – if I stay at home, poverty will': Afghans make plea for UK help 4

‘If I go out the Taliban will kill me – if I stay at home, poverty will’: Afghans make plea for UK help

Two Afghans in hiding from the Taliban in their home country – and in fear for their lives – have spoken to The Ferret seeking urgent help from the UK Government.

They said the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) must “do the right thing” and help desperate families who have not been evacuated from Afghanistan despite working for UK companies or government departments, which puts them in grave danger.  

They were backed by Scottish opposition MPs and campaigners who said that while the UK Government’s failure to act “would not be forgotten” it must now step in to offer food aid and evacuation assistance to take people out of danger through the resettlement scheme.

The men, who we are calling Ahmad and Sadiqi – pseudonyms to protect their identities – applied for help from the UK Government and believe they should have qualified for evacuation to the UK. They have documentation to back-up their claims, which has been seen by The Ferret.

But their emails went unanswered by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), forcing them into hiding in Afghanistan. They have not been able to work since, and one said he was struggling to afford to feed his family and pay for fuel.

“If I go out the Taliban will kill me,” Ahmad said. “If I stay at home, poverty will kill me.”

On 6 December a Foreign Office whistleblower told a parliamentary inquiry that tens of thousands of similar emails went unanswered in August by people seeking help to be evacuated.

According to evidence presented to the foreign affairs select committee by former diplomat Raphael Marshall, bureaucratic chaos and poor planning led to “people being left to die at the hands of the Taliban”.

In November an investigation by Open Democracy found more than 99 per cent of calls to a UK government helpline set up to help Afghans escape the Taliban went unanswered, openDemocracy can reveal.

The UK airlifted 15,000 people out of Afghanistan after Kabul fell on 15 August, including 5,000 British nationals, 8,000 Afghans and 2,000 children. He claimed less than five per cent of some 150,000 who at risk received help.

But in evidence to the Home Affairs committee in November Victoria Atkins MP, minister for Afghan resettlement, admitted only about 11-12,000 had remained in the UK, with the rest flying on to other countries including the US. About half of those in the UK are children.

Only 2,000 Afghans have so far been given permanent accommodation and many are accommodated in hotels.

UK contractors and companies

Meanwhile Sir Philip Barton, head of the diplomatic service, said he regretted his decision to take 11 days of leave, starting two days before the Foreign Office internally accepted Kabul was about to fall to the Taliban.

Ahmad, a former contractor for UK and US companies, as well as NATO, spoke to The Ferret from Kabul. We have seen pay slips to back-up his claims but are not naming the companies in order to ensure his safety.

He claimed his decision to work for international organisations led to threats on his life as far back as 2015, when a group who claimed to be associated with the Taliban confronted him to let him know this “would be a problem”.

Since the Taliban claimed victory in Kabul, he and his family have been in hiding. His brother was later kidnapped – but has since been released and is also in hiding from the Taliban.

“When the Taliban entered Kabul it was like a nightmare,” Ahamad said. “For 48 hours we weren’t even able to sleep. I was just looking at my daughters, at my wife – waiting to see what would happen.”

They decided not to go to the airport without an email confirming they could travel and stayed at home, doing frantic internet searches for contacts who could help them, emailing their documentation to both UK and US authorities, and pleading for help to be evacuated.

“I should have qualified,” he said of the UK evacuation scheme. “But I didn’t get a reply.” He finds it difficult to read the reports of what happened at the Foreign Office at that time.

“Honestly, if they knew what we were going through, surely they could not have slept an hour,” he said. “This was an emergency.

“We supported [the UK] when times were tough. Now it was their turn to support us. We cannot forgive that this happened because it is the consequences of these actions – overlooking our messages – that put us in this position.”

We supported [the UK] when times were tough. Now it was their turn to support us. We cannot forgive that this happened because it is the consequences of these actions – overlooking our messages – that put us in this position.

Ahmad, Afghan in hiding

There has been no money coming into the household, which includes his parents and sisters, and his savings have run out. “We are down to two or even one meal a day,” he said. “I am living with a high level of stress and depression. If I go out the Taliban will kill me. If I stay at home, poverty will kill me.”

The UK Government must now help, he claimed, providing food aid as well as finding ways to manage a second evacuation. “We need help to find safe houses and to get out to a third country,” he said. “They can evacuate us from there.”

Sadiqi, who until August was working for a company contracted to work for the British Embassy, also spoke to The Ferret from an undisclosed location. “The situation is getting worse every day here,” he said. “Local people are now also joining the Taliban due to fear.”

Those judged to have worked against the organisation “are taken away and tortured”, he claimed. Left with no money, robberies were also increasing, he said. “So now we are also struggling with poverty and  with crime.”

He said the speed at which Afghanistan fell was shocking. “We were terrified,” Sadiqi added. “We have grown-up with the stories of the Taliban of the old days.”

The Taliban was last in power in Afghanistan from 1995 until 2001 after which Hamid Karzai was sworn in as leader of the interim government, following US and UK military intervention.

The family was initially too frightened to go to the airport, but on 26 August enlisted the help of a local Imam who would drive them.

On route they got warning of a security threat. That day a suicide bomb killed dozens in chaotic scenes at Kabul airport where thousands of people desperately seeking evacuation were gathered.

“We spent the night at the mosque and in the early hours we went home,” Sadiqi told The Ferret. He has been in hiding ever since and has had to move locations with his family repeatedly.

They [Taliban members] are going door-to-door. If they don’t find the person they are looking for, they kidnap members of their family.

Sadiqi, Afghan in hiding

Sadiqi has also been supporting members of the Afghan Special Forces, applying to the UK authorities on both their behalf and his own.

“I must have contacted them 20 times for us and families and friends who had helped the British forces,” he said. “I did not receive any reply. I had to tell those people to forgive me. I gave them false hopes.”

He continued to contact MPs and other organisations until he was giving confirmation that no other visas were being issued and said he told other people he was assisting: “I cannot do anything more – go and hide”.

He said people’s lives are still at risk. “They [Taliban members] are going door-to-door. If they don’t find the person they are looking for, they kidnap members of their family. That means the person will be forced to speak up to save their child or their parents.”

Though he hopes that he and his family may be able to escape to Pakistan in the future, he is currently supporting families of the special forces and feels he cannot leave until they are safe.

“The UK must accept responsibility for protecting them,” he said. Many had already been killed or had disappeared, he claimed. “The UK [Government] knows this is happening – killings and beheadings. They must act.”

‘Terrible betrayal’

Abdul Botsani, who runs Scottish charity Afghan United, was himself forced to flee Afghanistan more than two decades ago and settled in Glasgow.

He claimed the inaction of the Foreign Office was a “terrible betrayal” of the Afghans who “bravely stepped up to protect and help British forces in Afghanistan as translators, guides and defenders”.

He is still in touch with several families in hiding, including those who had worked for the British Embassy directly. Others, he said, had paid smugglers up to $14,000 to get across the border to Pakistan, Iran and Uzbekistan.

They include families with dual Afghan and British identities, who had been”abandoned” by the UK Government.

“It’s really shocking,” he said. “The reality is that those still in Afghanistan who have worked for UK and US companies will automatically be treated as spies. If they are caught they will be taken in the night, killed and [have] acid thrown on their face.”

He continued: “The Foreign Office needs to know that this will impact on the UK’s reputation around the world. It will not be forgotten. But it is not too late. We are now calling on the UK Government to do the right thing.”

Many ordinary Afghans, who have endured decades of misery, will be forced into famine. Amongst these are people who served alongside British armed forces. These people need our help today, not tomorrow or next year.”

Sabir Zazai, Scottish Refugee Council

Sabir Zazai, chief executive of Scottish Refugee Council who fled Afghanistan in 1999, said the international community was watching “a dreadful human catastrophe unfolding” and called for the UK to re-open the Afghan resettlement programme with immediate effect and initiate humanitarian aid.

“Many ordinary Afghans, who have endured decades of misery, will be forced into famine,” he added.

“Amongst these are people who served alongside British armed forces over the last twenty years. These are men, women and children let down by the UK and other nations that were involved in Afghanistan over the last two years. These people need our help today, not tomorrow or next year.”

Under the Nations and Borders Bill, which passed on 8 December, those who do not arrive through a state sanction scheme could have their claim for asylum to be found “inadmissible” after a six month period of investigation. 

Anne McLaughlin MP, the SNP spokesperson on immigration and asylum and border control, said she and her team had been in touch with many people in Afghanistan with family members in her Glasgow North East constituency. 

She added: “Just imagine how horrendous it is for people like these two men. They worked alongside the British Government and  believed they would be protected because that’s what they were told.

“The UK Government should be ashamed and they need to treat this as an emergency situation again and get these people to safety.”

A UK Government spokesperson said:“UK Government staff worked tirelessly to evacuate more than 15,000 people from Afghanistan within a fortnight. This was the biggest mission of its kind in generations and the second largest evacuation carried out by any country. We are still working to help others leave.

“Regrettably we were not able to evacuate all those we wanted to, but our commitment to them is enduring, and since the end of the operation we have helped more than 3,000 individuals leave Afghanistan.”

Image thanks to iStock/photographicsolutionsuk

This story was published in tandem with the Sunday National

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Hi! To read more you need to login.
Not a member yet? Join our co-operative now to get unlimited access.
You can join using Direct Debit, payment card or Paypal. Cancel at any time. If you are on a low-income you may be eligible for a free sponsored membership. Having trouble logging in? Try here.
Hi! To read more you need to login.
Not a member yet?
Hi! You can login using the form below.
Not registered yet?
Having trouble logging in? Try here.

    Sign-up for our free weekly email

    Or become a member to get unlimited access, personalised email alerts, online training and more. You can join us for just 69p per week.