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‘What can I do?’: Afghan evacuees in UK fear for those left behind

Posted on Sep 06, 2021

Back in Afghanistan, Hasib Nooralam had a high-flying career and was working as the director of youth crime at the attorney general’s office when the Taliban took over.

After a treacherous journey to the airport, he was evacuated to the UK last week but is not sure what the future holds. “I’m relieved to be here but I lost a lot of things. I lost my job, my position, everything. It’s painful for me,” he said from the hotel room in central London, where he is in quarantine. “I had a very good position inside Afghanistan but in the UK, it’s so difficult to find a job here.”

He is fielding calls from many colleagues asking for help to get out of the country, and said it was particularly dangerous for the prosecutors who sent Taliban members to jail after they were ousted in 2001. “I’m worried about all of them. Especially the women; I’m sure their future is lost, they’ve lost their jobs and have to stay at home.”

Hasib Nooralam: ‘I lost my job, my position, everything.’

Nooralam was one of the lucky ones who made it on to an evacuation flight from Kabul airport, after waiting for nearly 24 hours outside the gate. “It was scary. I saw the Taliban beat people, women, older people and young people. That was the first time I’ve seen a man beat a woman,” he said. “They beat me two or three times.”

For many, the relief of making it to the UK was overwhelmed by fear for those left behind. Another evacuee at the hotel asked to remain anonymous to protect his family being sought by the Taliban: “Please don’t put my name, it will cost a life,” he said.

He worked in the foreign ministry, and was being targeted by the Taliban because of his education in the UK; he came to the country aged 14 and studied at a college in Essex, before completing degrees at Leicester and York universities.

“All that information, I don’t know who told it to who. But as soon as the government collapsed they were looking for me and I was in hiding for a few days. They labelled me as a British spy,” he said.

His elderly mother and two sisters are stuck in Afghanistan, along with his brother, who has a wife and children. “Three days ago my brother was arrested by the Taliban when they came looking for me. I don’t know what happened to him. My mother’s phone has been switched off for days,” he said. “If I hand myself over, I have to accept that I will die.

“In the media they’re saying there’s an amnesty, but they’re looking in every family who has got any relation with British or US government.”

He called on the British government to provide extra help and assistance to Afghans with connections to the UK whose families are at risk in Afghanistan. “I’m asking for the British government to at least consider our difficulty and our hardship,” he said. “This is one example, there are 1,000 people right now with a similar situation, they’re facing the same or probably worse.”

Although he has fears for his family, he is grateful to have made it to safety after fearing he would surely die during his long wait outside the airport gates. “It was like being stuck between hell and paradise,” he said. “Every few seconds they were firing gunfire. Everyone was on the floor in the street and they’re hitting people.”

He is using his time in quarantine to try to find a way to bring his family to safety. “I haven’t slept for more than four hours. Every time I go to sleep, the nightmare is coming. The pressure is unimaginable. What can I do? I don’t have any choice.”