‘They let us die’: British aid workers in Afghanistan hide from the Taliban

‘They let us die’: British aid workers in Afghanistan hide from the Taliban

Afghan workers who have worked as contractors on aid projects in the UK fear for their lives after not being relocated to Britain.

The Guardian has been in contact with four families who said they were targeted by the Taliban because they worked for the British government and have now been forced into hiding.

Ahmad Shakib, who was employed for six years by Adam Smith International (ASI), a consultancy firm under contract on a number of UK-funded projects in Afghanistan, said Britain did not have it. not help to evacuate. He, his wife and children, aged nine, seven and three, fled for their lives.

“Every minute, every moment is crucial for us. We are changing our home address randomly in order to hide, ”said Shakib, who spoke to the Guardian while hiding in a remote location outside Kabul. “The day begins with fear and ends with despair. “

The family first fled their home in Kabul in July, when Shakib began receiving death threats.

They were fortunate enough to escape two weeks ago when they moved to another location one night before the Taliban knocked on the door of a relative’s house where they lived.

While at ASI, Shakib worked on a budget proposal for the Afghan Ministry of Finance alongside international advisers.

He applied to the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap) program – a British government program to help people who had worked with the British government to relocate – on August 18, just after the Taliban took Kabul.

Shakib received an email response four days later, asking for details of his family. Excited, he prematurely told his children that they might be leaving soon. But he hasn’t heard from them since he answered.

He now believes his family are unlikely to qualify under current criteria. Others saw their applications rejected because they were not directly employed by the UK government.

A British evacuation flight from Kabul. Hundreds of Afghans who worked on British projects feel abandoned. Photograph: LPhot Ben Shread / Department of Defense / EPA

“Every morning my daughter now asks me for updates on our evacuation,” Shakib said. “My children keep asking questions about their future. My wife is completely broken. They let us die.

The couple fear the Taliban will catch up with them soon.

“I want to live a life away from fear. I want peace for my family in an atmosphere of democracy, ”said Ahmad’s wife. “I just want us to be alive. “

In response to a question from the Guardian about its intention to extend Arap’s eligibility to contractors, the UK Ministry of Defense said: “During Operation Pitting, we worked tirelessly to evacuate safely. as many as 15,000 people from Kabul, including thousands of Arap candidates and their dependents.

“We will continue to do all we can to support those who have supported us, and our commitment to those who are eligible for relocation is not time bound and will last.” The Arap program remains open for applications and we will continue to support those who are eligible. “

ASI said they employed hundreds of Afghan nationals on UK-funded projects between 2002 and 2018. Nationals who were engaged in international development work directly for the UK government – who are eligible for Arap – and those who were employed by contractors such as ASI on projects designed and funded by the UK government.

“We continue to press the UK government to expand the Arap program to cover Afghan nationals who were previously indirectly employed by the UK government through contractors performing work on behalf of the UK government who are the more vulnerable and at risk. “

Zabeeh Deshiwal *, 29, worked on UK-sponsored counterterrorism, security and justice projects for contracting companies ASI and Coffey International, which later became Tetra Tech International Development. He has been on the run with his wife, three-year-old son and three-month-old daughter for four weeks.

“My friend, who has a store next to me [in Kabul], told me that the Taliban were looking for me and others who worked for foreigners, ”he said.

Deshiwal applied to the Arap program in May but was rejected because he was not a direct employee of the UK government, despite his role in high risk projects. He appealed the decision at the end of July and has yet to hear a response.

The family rationed their food by eating only two meals a day. Deshiwal found it impossible to sleep, as the slightest noise triggers panic.

“Now our lives are seriously threatened,” he said. “We can’t stay like this for long. It’s like a never-ending nightmare that gets more and more cruel with each passing day.

Yasmine Ahmed, UK director of Human Rights Watch, said the UK government should not “cut corners” on whether someone was a contractor or directly employed.

“People are jostling each other from hiding to hiding,” she said. “The UK has days, not months, to save lives. He must do all he can to keep his promise and urgently relocate the Afghans who stood by our side when we needed them most. “

* Name changed to protect identity


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