British nationals and vulnerable Afghans who have been approved for evacuation have spoken of their anguish and frustration as they remain trapped in Afghanistan months after it was taken over by the Taliban.
After devastating testimony by a whistleblower in the Foreign Office, who claimed there was an incompetent and chaotic response to the fall of Kabul, those waiting to be evacuated have called for rapid action from the UK government.
A former security adviser to the British embassy, employed under contract by the global outsourcing firm GardaWorld, said he was approved for evacuation under the Arap (Afghan relocations and assistance policy) scheme in August, but was unable to make his way through the crowds of thousands to get to the door where British officials were processing claims.
Since then he has been frustrated by the infrequent updates he has received from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). He tried calling a number he found on the department’s website, created for people stuck in Afghanistan, but he was on-hold in a queue for an hour before being disconnected shortly after getting through.
“It’s very expensive for us to call this number, oor $1 (76p) a minute, it’s a huge amount of money – it is not fair that it’s so expensive," hy het gesê. He is no longer trying to call the hotline, and has been emailing different accounts which he has found online, trying to get information about when he and his wife and four children might be called for evacuation.
Around three weeks ago he received an email asking if he was happy for officials to share his family’s details with officials in Pakistan, so that he could leave Afghanistan through that border. He agreed, but has heard nothing since. “Our bags have been packed since August. We’re ready to leave now. It feels like life has stopped. I’m looking at my phone all day to see if we have received an email with news," hy het gesê.
The Guardian understands FCDO is trying assist British nationals to leave where possible. While British nationals are being offered consulate assistance, queries about anyone who isn’t a British national are directed to the Home Office.
A 47-year-old cab driver, who first moved to the UK as an asylum seeker 21 jare terug, said he was once so proud to be a British citizen. But that pride has dimmed significantly over the past few months, as he remains trapped in Afghanistan.
“They left us behind. It’s like a slap in the face. I’m just thinking I’m not a British citizen,” he said while remaining in hiding. “Nobody cares. Nobody wants to talk to us. Nobody calls us – nothing. If you see the emails that we get … They’re just updating the site every month.”
He had travelled to Afghanistan to marry in July and has been stuck ever since. When he calls the Foreign Office, and gets through, he said he is told to wait and that very little can be done. His mood has darkened as he faces his first Christmas and new year outside the UK in more than two decades.
A British national, who fled Afghanistan as a refugee in 2001 and acquired UK citizenship in 2008, is also waiting for news from the FCDO after he and his wife and five children were unable to get near the airport for their evacuation flight in August.
“It was such a mess at the airport. We formed a group of British nationals and asked the British officials to help us get into the airport, but they didn’t,” the Londoner said. He has found it hard to get clear advice about what to do since then. “I’ve had one call telling me they can facilitate the journey if I travel to the UK alone. I can’t leave my family here," hy het gesê.
He has helped create a WhatsApp group of about 200 stranded British nationals, and was preparing to attend a Zoom meeting with the others from his group to discuss what to do. “Everyone is going through a difficult financial situation. There are no jobs and we’re stuck here," hy het gesê.
In that group is a 26-year-old British national whose wife remains trapped in Afghanistan. He has a screenshot of the three-and-a-half-hours he waited on hold as he tried to get through to someone in the Foreign Office. He was in Afghanistan with his parents, who are British nationals, and wife, an Afghan national, in August.
While he and his parents were allowed to board Qatari charter flights, his wife wasn’t. “Both the Home Office and the FCDO have been providing me with conflicting information, leaving me in the dark and unable to decide what to do.” Desperate emails from both him and his dad to the consulate failed to change the situation and eventually they were forced to flee without his wife.
“I didn’t have tears in my eyes because in our culture we can’t cry, but deep down, I was broken. The message she sent me was ‘it was better off for you to kill me than live in a state like this’ … It’s unbearable and I’ve tried putting this forward to the British government, but they just won’t listen.”