Afghanistan: Thousands of terrified families fear for their lives and no longer see the country as their home

Afghanistan: Thousands of terrified families fear for their lives and no longer see the country as their home

The desperation of the Afghans is heartbreaking.

It is the face of those who sit for hours with their children and their suitcases outside the building where one of the few airlifts takes place.

It is contained in the dozens of e-mails that have been sent to me: “You are a journalist. I am too. Please help me. You are my only hope. If I die tell the UK government that there was a girl who was killed by the Taliban simply because she has done something for her people and her country. “

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Taliban try to stop filming refugees leaving Afghanistan

It is in the many texts of human rights defenders who tell me Taliban knock on their door and they don’t want to die.

“Please can someone help us?” “

It is in the tears of a young journalist who silently shows us a video of him being beaten by a talibé.

The Talib uses the butt of its weapon to strike its legs and back. He then ties up the journalist’s hands and drags him with a rope which he ties to the back of his motorcycle.

Taliban fighters control Kabul airport

The torture and humiliation lasted two days before he escaped. The video is a few years old but the trauma is very much present – and at the time the Taliban were not in charge.

Now they have the arms and the levers of power. “If they catch me again, they will kill me,” said the reporter. This desperation is everywhere.

The Taliban claim to have changed
Selling Taliban flags in Kabul
Taliban flags are sold near Kabul airport

The state of Qatar is one of only two countries trying to operate airlifts. Pakistan is the other. But that involves careful and difficult negotiations with the Taliban who go through every flight list and scrutinize every name on it.

The evacuation may be officially over. (It ended with the withdrawal of foreign troops at the end of August).

But there are still thousands of terrified families who no longer see Afghanistan as their home and fear for their lives.

Among them are those who have British and foreign passports. We see them waving their new red or blue British passports outside the barricaded building which is guarded by armed Taliban but beyond is the road to safety and home.

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Afghanistan: women living in fear

They struggle to get their name on the flight manifesto and many tell us they feel abandoned by the UK government.

Like many Afghans, they have large extended families often with several relatives employed in the same field – who have previously worked for the British Embassy or British-funded charities or British-run projects to rebuild the country. Afghanistan.

“My father worked for the British Embassy,” I am told. “He has a congratulatory letter. It does and it is sent to me.

But the praise once so proudly received now amounts to a death sentence for the Taliban.

The Taliban have promised a blanket amnesty for those who worked with the former government they overthrew and the foreign invaders they chased – but on the ground, the reality is very different. There are scores to be settled and revenge sought.

Taliban fighters repeatedly try to prevent us from filming people trying to get tickets to leave Afghanistan.

One continues to strike my colleague Richie Mockler’s camera, others put their hands in front of his lens. They shoot and jostle our Afghan colleague who is trying to get between the Talibs and the Sky team.

Afghans who want to leave.  One holds a British passport
Many Afghans still want to leave. One of these men holds a British passport

The papers issued to us by the Taliban themselves giving us permission to film in the country appear to be of no value at this point. We are repeatedly urged to show “the real picture” of the Taliban – by the Taliban and we are constantly told that they have “changed” and evolved.

But there is a real fear among those who have worked alongside foreigners and they are not reassured by these claims.

The Taliban don’t want people to leave the country. They don’t want pictures showing of people trying to get out. They want foreign governments to come back, establish their embassies and revive the aid that most of the country has become so dependent on.

For this reason, there are strict rules regarding who is on the flight list and it is limited to those with a foreign passport – not their dependents, not Afghans who have worked for foreigners, not those that are currently targeted.

It is difficult for those who are trying to manage the flight lists and work under these conditions. We see Qatari officials working through the night trying to juggle passports, IDs and coordinate with multiple countries to check people on the theft list.

“But you don’t have a passport,” I hear one of them say over the phone. “You have to have a passport to travel – and a visa, only then can we help you. “

They are families themselves. They know how difficult it must be to leave behind an elderly relative or sister who is now a target of the Taliban – and the decision-making doesn’t get any easier.

We meet three men in a cafe in Kabul who all have British passports but large families with many relatives who do not.

“I have lived in Ilford for about 20 years,” one of them tells us. “I met Boris (Johnson) when I was a taxi driver. He asked me if he thought he could be mayor of London. He was so uncertain. I said yes, go ahead. You can do it, Boris.

“But now I’m very disappointed with him. He left us all here. We are UK taxpayers. We do not pay our taxes for the government to invade countries. We pay them to get their help but we don’t get any help for our families. My deputy is trying to help us but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not even answer him. We are told to wait.

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Hospitals struggle under Taliban rule

There is a sudden rush after waiting all day to board the convoy the Qataris have organized to take hundreds of “approved” refugees to the airport. But the Taliban challenged the list of thefts that had been drawn up.

Most of the people who were there are now NOT there. Only three coaches carrying around 40 people made it to the heavily guarded airport. There are dozens of armed Taliban around the perimeter wearing military fatigues and special operations goggles, bulletproof vests, helmets and ammunition belts, carrying brand new American weapons.

They signal the convoy to pass and the families take their suitcases out of the buses and make their way quickly to the entrance to the airport. Qatari officials are trying to rush them. The deadline is twilight. The plane cannot fly after dark for safety reasons and more practically because there is no light on the runway.

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The young mother of two cries next to me as she lines up waiting to be petted at airport security. But there are no women doing physical security checks for the female line at this time. The new Taliban-controlled Afghanistan doesn’t see much of a role for women.

They were told not to show up for work unless they were health workers and the girls were told not to go back to school “yet”.

“My country is gone,” the young mother told me, rocking her little girl. “We can’t live here anymore. I don’t know if I will ever come back. Everything is broken. “

Shortly after, exasperated Qatari officials return to the refugee queues with handfuls of passports.

“The flight has been canceled,” they say. “There is no one at immigration.

We hear the plane take off – empty – and the refugees turn around to spend another night wondering if they will be allowed to leave this country they no longer recognize.

The Qataris are working again through the night trying to come to an agreement with the Taliban to allow the plane to land in Kabul and decide on a list of flights acceptable to everyone.

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How popular are the Taliban in Afghanistan?

By mid-afternoon the next day, it seems so. Two hundred and thirty-six people were taken in convoy to the airport this time after an official described as “extensive consultation with the parties on the ground”.

It is the fourth flight that Qatar has managed to organize and by far the largest passenger evacuation since August 31, when foreign troops were still in Afghanistan and airlifts were in full swing.

This time the Taliban have recalled the former airport staff and there are two female security guards. They tell me how their life has radically changed in such a short time.

Leaving Kabul
A final photo of Kabul taken from the plane

“They tell us to wear long dresses (abaya) to cover our heads. They even tell me that I have to cut my nails, that they are too long. She takes off her plastic gloves to show me beautifully manicured fingernails now prohibited by new Taliban rules.

Refugees take the last photos of their country as they board the flight to safety and an uncertain new life. Few people think they’ll be back anytime soon – and they leave behind thousands of people who still fear for their lives and are trapped.

Alex Crawford reports from Kabul with cameraman Richie Mockler and producers Chris Cunningham and Mark Grant.

Additional photos by Chris Cunningham.


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