British nationals stranded in Kabul have said they fear for their lives after being left behind by the UK’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Thousands of UK citizens remain trapped in the country following the Taliban’s takeover despite Boris Johnson’s government promising the “lion’s share” of people had been rescued.
In interviews with The Independent, two Britons spoke about their despair at being left behind and the fear that is gripping their families as they hide from the Islamist militant group.
One British national, Aman*, is stranded in Kabul with his wife after the couple travelled to Afghanistan last month for their wedding. The said they are running out of money and are scared they will be thrown out on to the streets because they can no longer pay their rent.
The couple have been told by the Foreign Office that they should flee to a land border but, without any cash, they are stuck in Kabul and are unable to leave.
Aman, a restaurant owner from Manchester, told The Independent: “It’s hard to get food and basics. Every day we are facing a difficult situation. The rent is due so we have to pay $700 tomorrow, but we only have $50 left. We don’t know what we are going to do.
“Banks are closed, Western Union isn’t working and Moneygram is closed. We have friends who are trying to send us money but we can’t receive it.”
Aman travelled to Afghanistan in early August for his wedding and had booked flights to return to the UK last week with his wife. Following the fall of Kabul, his flights were cancelled and he was left to battle for an evacuation spot.
He tried to get to the British evacuation centre at the Baron Hotel in Kabul multiple times last week but couldn’t get close to the gates because of the crowds outside.
“We feel like we are in hell,” he said. “The charities here are very poor and they can only help us for one or two days, not any longer. And all of the Afghan people are in the same situation.”
He has also spoken to other British nationals in the same situation, adding: “I spoke to one guy last night who has completely run out of money. He hasn’t had any money for food for the last three days.”
Aman has tried to seek help from the British embassy, and from his local MP in Manchester, but the latest advice from the Foreign Office is to leave Afghanistan by land border and come back to the UK through a third country.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has flown to Doha to discuss the safe passage of British nationals with Qatari officials, who have a close relationship with Taliban leadership.
“It is hard to leave Afghanistan because we haven’t got any money to leave,” Aman said. “Currently Pakistan is not providing visas to foreign citizens so the problem is that the border is closed.
“Diplomats are gone from here and so we don’t know what we are going to do. We are in a critical position every day and every moment we think we are going to die. We have no idea what our future will be.”
Another stranded Briton told how troops said he would have to leave his family behind if he wanted to escape Afghanistan. Asif* worked as radiologist in the NHS before deciding to move to Kabul in April to help their struggling health service.
Following the fall of the city to the Taliban, he went to the airport for five days in a row in the hope of getting onto one of the UK’s evacuation flights but was unable get through the vast crowds of people with his family and young child.
He told The Independent: “On one occasion I managed to push through and I got to the gate. I spoke to a British officer and told him that my family was right at the back because they couldn’t walk through the crowd as it was life-threatening. He told me he couldn’t do anything and that if I wanted to get in I would have to leave my family behind.”
He also tried getting to the Baron Hotel evacuation centre but had no luck. While he was there he saw other embassy cars driving their nationals straight into the compound. “I saw many cars and other vehicles going through the gate,” he said. “I spoke to one of the drivers through a friend and he told us that the cars had been hired by different embassies - the French and German embassies - and they are taking their nationals from locations around Kabul straight to the hotel to get flights.
“The guards would literally fire into the air and people would move and then the cars would go through. When I heard about this, I asked the British embassy if they could do something like that.
“I even offered to organise it myself but they said it couldn’t be done and I wasn’t allowed.”
Asif travelled to Afghanistan with his family earlier in the year to help build a new cancer centre in Kabul and said he had not anticipated Afghanistan’s rapid fall into Taliban hands.
He is now living in fear of his life and has already had to move locations once because of Taliban searches. “I’m living in fear every second that something will happen to my family,” he said.
Asif, originally from Birmingham, added: “There are many other Brits in Kabul. I saw about 20 to 30 families on the day of the Baron Hotel bombing and told them that we had been warned not to be near there because of the terrorist attack.”
Due to family connections, Asif is at an increased risk of being targeted by the Taliban. He said: “I don’t know how to express my feelings at the moment because every minute there is a possibility of militants coming and knocking on my door.
“Yesterday they killed an engineer who I knew. They shot him in the face. I found out through mutual friends that he had been killed. We are all living in fear.”
The Guardian reported that MPs are trying to rescue an estimated 7,000 constituents and family members trapped in Afghanistan. The cases of at least 5,000 at-risk people have been passed to the Foreign Office but only a fraction have received a reply, MPs said.
Giving evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on Wednesday, Mr Raab said he could not say “precisely” how many Afghans who were entitled to come to the UK have been left behind.
He also admitted that only twenty Foreign Office staff were processing cases at the evacuation centre in Kabul’s Baron Hotel last week.
*Names have been changed to protect interviewees’ identities