In mid-August, when Taliban forces took full control of Afghanistan, Leyla immediately feared that her 6- and 10-year-old stepdaughters would be cared for by extremely vulnerable relatives.
But Layla, not her real name, reassured herself that she would soon be safe because she was a British citizen and had applied to bring the girls to England.
A few weeks later, Leyla is one of thousands of Afghans who are still relying on the makeshift efforts of constituency lawmakers, volunteer groups and lawyers to rescue their loved ones trapped in Afghanistan.
The setbacks they face underscore the plight of thousands of British families with relatives in Afghanistan who cannot avoid the imminent threat of persecution and violence.
About 70% of British Afghan-born live in London. In the East Ham district where Leyla lives, she is one of 170 people who have reached out to councilor Stephen Tims for support.
He said he had been asked to help 948 people trying to escape Afghanistan, and Labor lawmakers had received solicitations from 5,000 people who were concerned about their relatives overall.
Timms said he only knew of three people who had reported cases who have successfully escaped so far.
Regarding the unprecedented amount of calls his team received, Timms said: “We have never had to deal with something like this before.
After government departments were overwhelmed by the volume of requests for assistance, those affected turned to ad hoc groups.
Chetal Patel, an immigration partner at Bates Wells, who has founded a hub of nearly 150 lawyers providing free advice to people in need, said he felt it was important to press the government and lobby for further efforts to help those in need. said. danger.
“You can’t just throw away Afghans who can’t fly,” Patel said. “Morally, that’s not right.”
Mohammed Nabi worked for the US Agency for International Development in Afghanistan. His daughter applied for a visa to take her six-year-old son to England, but was turned down. © Charlie Bebe/FT
The British airlifted 15,000 men from Afghanistan in a three-week operation. Another 13 British citizens were able to leave on a US-operated flight on Thursday. But more and more people are trapped and cannot escape the country.
“They were overwhelmed,” Timms said of the Interior Department and the Foreign Commonwealth Development Office. “I think they didn’t open much. [the emails]. They certainly did not answer them.”
The government claims it is working to help those still hiding in Afghanistan through an agreement so that many can move to safer places. Many admitted that they were in “a difficult situation.”
“Our top priority is to continue working with our allies and partners in the region to ensure the safe passage of people leaving Afghanistan,” the government said.
The Interior Ministry said it would create a new resettlement plan for Afghan citizens that could accommodate up to 20,000 people, but did not release detailed eligibility rules and did not say when applications will begin or start bringing people to the UK.
The plan is in addition to the Afghan Relocation and Support Policy for those who have worked closely with British troops and officials stationed there since 2001.
But these plans now offer little comfort to Mohammad Nabi, a former senior Afghan government official who was responsible for rebuilding the US Agency for International Development, which fled to the UK in the face of life-threatening threats a decade ago. not.
His daughter’s request for a visa to take her six-year-old son from Afghanistan to England was denied shortly before the Taliban took over.
On behalf of the family, Timms obtained permission from the Ministry of Defense that the boy should board a plane to England, but the family could not get to the airport.
Nabi said the son’s mother, the daughter, said she would like to go to Afghanistan if she could die with her son like other worried relatives.
Nabi said of her family in England: “I’m telling them I’m trying everything I can, but it’s very, very difficult.”
Much of the burden of supporting such desperate people has been entrusted to small, often informal, relief efforts.
The son of the leader of one of the mujahideen groups that fought the Taliban before the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 1996 explained the transition to one such initiative.
Nooralhaq Nasimi, director of the Association of Afghanistan and Central Asia, said he and his family have been sleeping in the group office in recent weeks. © Anna Gordon/FT
The man, who only asked to be identified by Zakria, sought help from the Ministry of the Interior to rescue his father, who is now hiding in Afghanistan.
Since then, he has turned to East Ham’s Rozina Iqbal, who has provided unofficial advice to dozens of Afghans regarding dealing with British officials.
“I’m very, very, very depressed, very sad,” Zakria said. “I will never see my family again.” Iqbal said it was “heartbreaking” to hear men cry at her.
The burden on these organizations was evident at the Afghan and Central Asian Association, one of the largest Afghan community associations in the UK.
The group’s director, Nooralhaq Nasimi, said she and other family members had been sleeping in the group’s office in Feltham, west London, in recent weeks. ACAA received 6,000 help requests in the two weeks following its takeover by the Taliban.
Sitting with her husband in Docklands’ apartment, Leila explained how they struggle to sleep. They were very worried about their two young children and their sister-in-law taking care of them.
She said the two women cried uncontrollably over the phone and were afraid of being discovered by the Taliban.
“We can’t live a normal life. How can we live if something happens?” She expressed the typical agony the group is trying to support. “They are in a really dangerous situation.”
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