Saturday, November 27

“Now we feel desperate”: British citizens left behind in Kabul | Afghanistan


BRitual citizens trapped in Kabul have described feeling abandoned by UK officials when it became clear that promised help with the evacuation seemed increasingly unlikely after news that repatriation flights would soon be suspended.

Nine British nationals waiting to be evacuated this week said they had not heard from British officials since Thursday night and were feeling increasingly desperate for the possibility of returning to their UK homes.

One described the evacuation operation as “grossly mismanaged” and a “disaster”. All said they were increasingly concerned for their safety. They expressed frustration that it had become impossible to contact the Foreign Ministry’s Afghanistan helpline and said that emails sent to the dedicated Afghan assistance account were not being answered.

It is unclear how many British passport holders remain stranded in Afghanistan or how many eligible people are still awaiting evacuation. Ministers said there were only 1,100 people left to rescue, but it seems likely that this figure significantly underestimates the total number of people who have been promised emergency visas.

A British citizen, who runs a gift shop in Canterbury, said he had spent the past two days hiding in a basement. “We believe the Taliban are searching house to house, targeting anyone with a foreign passport. I am afraid for my life. I hope that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will contact me soon, ”he said.

Earlier in the week, British officials had advised him to go to the Baron Hotel processing center with his wife, three-week-old son and two-year-old daughter. Although he is the sole holder of a British passport, he was told that everyone would be allowed to travel to the UK. However, he couldn’t get close enough to the hotel door to tell officials who he was.

“It was crazy. There were thousands of people gathered there, pushing each other back and forth. Most of them did not have any documents.

“We waited there for 13 hours, but they never called me by name,” he said, adding that British officials should have done more to try to identify UK passport holders from the crowd. He wonders if British citizens born in Afghanistan are not considered a priority.

“They did not make a line, nor did they try to separate British citizens from others. If I had been born in London, I would not have been treated like this. The Ministry of Foreign Relations has to answer that question. “

British soldiers secure the outer perimeter of the Baron hotel in Kabul
British soldiers secure the perimeter outside the Baron Hotel in Kabul, which has now stopped processing evacuees. Photograph: Marcus Yam / LA Times / Rex / Shutterstock

A London Uber driver was also dismayed that UK officials at the airport had not come looking for British passport holders in the crowd this week. He had spent several days queuing with his family outside the airport, and was very grateful to have received an email from the Foreign Ministry warning that an attack was imminent on Thursday, so he avoided the explosion. “We were there for several days before that, yelling ‘I’m British, I’m British,’ but no one came to help,” he said.

His alarm was echoed by a 42-year-old minicab driver from south London, who said he had felt desperate when he read that evacuation flights were ending.

“We thought we could go by road, but we need advice on where to go. We need to make plans, but when we call [Foreign Office] numbers, they don’t respond. We feel disoriented, ”he said.

He said he felt that friends with German and Australian passports had received better assistance to get to the airport earlier in the week. “They were calling their citizens to meet at a certain place in the city and sending buses for them. Nobody contacted us. “

He had compiled the names of 34 British citizens he was in contact with who were stranded in Kabul. “No one has contacted to say that they have been evacuated today, that I know of, they are still here. There may be hundreds of others that we don’t know about, ”he said.

A BBC World Service reporter in Kabul said he had received a repatriation letter earlier this week and was told that transportation to the airport would be arranged because he had a three-month-old son. He managed to get on a bus to the airport on Thursday, but the evacuation was canceled after the explosion and he was told to go home and wait for news.

“The last contact I had was at 12.30 last night. They said they would contact me immediately as soon as something was fixed. They didn’t even mention that it might not happen.

“When I call the helpline, they only give standard answers – wait for someone to call you. The number for the local Afghan embassy in the UK has not worked for days. I sent more than a dozen emails to accounts at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to the email accounts they asked me to contact, and I have not received a single response from any email, which is shocking.

“This is an absolutely disastrous scenario for me and my family. Retaliation has started and the Taliban are attacking people. I am well known in Kabul. If the government does not come up with a plan to help us, unfortunately lives will be lost. “

A 31-year-old factory worker in London said he too felt very fortunate to have narrowly avoided the attack, after spending three days and three nights trying to show his British passport near the scene of the blast. “Now we feel depressed and desperate. We don’t know if they are going to leave us like this or if they are going to open a way to get us out of here, ”he said.

Crowds of people try to show their documents to US troops outside the Kabul airport.
Crowds of people try to show their documents to US troops outside the Kabul airport. Photograph: Reuters

Another British national, a 32-year-old mechanic from Derby, was also awaiting instructions on what to do next. “We have been told to stay in a safe place and to wait for more advice. We are in a horrible situation; we are very scared and we cannot get out. “He was thinking about trying to cross the border by car, but his wife and children do not have passports and he was not sure if they would be allowed to leave.

The guards who provided security for the British embassy in Kabul were also pessimistic about their chances of fleeing Afghanistan on Friday, following a failed attempt by international security firm GardaWorld to evacuate them. “We successfully rounded up 185 families of British embassy workers, about 1,000 people in total, and took them to the airport, but they wouldn’t let us in,” said the guard supervisor. “Right now there is no hope for us.”

Oliver Westmacott, GardaWorld president for the Middle East and Africa, said attempts to remove the guards would continue either by land or on commercial flights “once things settle down in the next few months.”

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “More than 13,700 people, including British citizens, our Afghan staff and others at risk, have been evacuated from Afghanistan by the UK since Saturday 14 August in one of the largest operations of this type in history.

“We will continue to do everything we can to fulfill our obligation to remove eligible British and Afghan citizens from the country for as long as the security situation allows.”


www.theguardian.com

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