Ex-BBC journalists in Kabul say corporation ignored pleas for help

A group of senior Afghan journalists who spent time working for the BBC have accused the corporation and the UK government of ignoring their pleas for help after being stranded in Kabul.

The 14-strong group, who had stints as either presenters, reporteros, producers or assistant producers for the BBC in Afganistán, are hiding from the Taliban after their calls for assistance were rejected by the BBC and the UK embassy in Kabul.

The corporation said it was working to help 171 staff and their families in Afghanistan but was unable to extend that support to former BBC workers as UK and US agencies had limited capacity to help.

Hundreds of journalists with links to British media outlets remain in the country, according to the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), which called on ministers to make good on promises to help those in need.

los 14 former BBC journalists asked for their identities not to be revealed for fear of reprisals. One conducted interviews with senior Taliban figures for the corporation while another is a former presenter of a UK embassy-backed BBC talkshow that is still available on YouTube.

Speaking from Kabul, where he is hiding with his wife and five children, the talkshow presenter said: “Unfortunately we have been abandoned by the BBC. I am under threat, me and my family. The BBC have a moral responsibility to us, we are in danger because we worked for the BBC.”

He said two months ago he received threatening and abusive phone calls from Taliban commanders. “They accused me of working for the British government and supporting the infidel invasion of Afghanistan. They asked why I didn’t report news about Taliban gains. They said they would find me when they got to Kabul.”

The presenter, who also spent eight months working for the corporation in London, adicional: “We urgently need to leave Afghanistan. Last week a reporter was beaten in front of his camera and accused of spreading things against Islam. Ten days ago they beat two journalists in the east of the country.”

The director of BBC News, Fran Unsworth, emailed a representative of seven of the group on 19 agosto, four days after the Taliban entered Kabul, saying she understood “how concerned you must be for your own safety and that of your wider family and friends”.

She said the corporation was doing all it could to help BBC staff but “unfortunately in these difficult circumstances we are not in a position to extend this support to their extended family and former BBC staff. This is because the UK and US agencies we’re asking for help have limited capacity.” Unsworth offered to remove links online to stories the journalist had worked on.

An email sent last week from the chief of staff at the UK embassy in Kabul said: “We are absolutely committed to doing what we can to support the Afghan people. I realise that these words will feel insignificant at this moment, but I hope that you stay safe and our thoughts are with you.”

In an open letter to Johnson, the group said: “It appears that they [the BBC] completely forgot about those who worked with them for a good number of years and ignored their contributions. [We] are living in tremendous fear and urge the British government as well as the BBC to help save [our] lives without further delay and before it is too late.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC has been working around the clock with governments, the military and expert teams to find options for evacuating colleagues and their immediate families from Afghanistan. We have so far managed to successfully evacuate several hundred staff to the UK and we are doing all we can to ensure the safety of staff and their families who currently remain in the country whilst we continue to explore all other options. We have every sympathy with former staff but we regret we are not in a position to extend our direct support to them.”

Michelle Stanistreet, the NUJ general secretary, dicho: “Despite belated promises made by the UK government to support Afghan journalists with links to UK media outlets, the reality is that hundreds remain stranded … The UK has a moral duty to make good on its promises, including to all current and former staff of our public service broadcaster.”

The Foreign Office has been approached for comment.

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