Evacuee is thankful for new life in Wigan after fleeing Afghanistan
“Imagine a person working for years for the UK, the difficult situation and some people losing everything. If they recognise you, they will immediately kill you and your family.”
That was the terrifying situation facing dad Abdul Hamid Ghiasi as the Taliban made their way across Afghanistan and arrived in Kabul.
He had been working in the defence section at the British Embassy, supporting both the British and Afghan forces, playing a key role liaising between various security organisations and organising senior military visits.
But he was also the only Afghan working in that department and he knew he was in danger.
The Taliban had been working their way through the 34 provinces in Afghanistan and were heading for the capital Kabul, where Abdul lived.
He said: “Slowly we saw that most of the districts collapsed and Taliban captured them. Afterwards, the provinces.
“The week before the collapse of the country, we were seeing big cities collapsing one after another.”
As the Taliban approached Kabul, fears grew among everyone working with or supporting the British Embassy.
Abdul said: “I was really scared because my family was there and I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
In mid-August, Abdul went to the office and was told to collect everything in his drawer and destroy any paperwork.
But when he went home he could not speak to his family about what had happened.
He said: “The next day the Taliban came to the centre of Kabul itself and they were everywhere.
“A large number of people working with international organisations, especially British forces and Americans, went to the airport. Thousands and thousands of people were at the airport and thousands were standing at the walls. Everyone wanted to be evacuated.”
Abdul was advised to keep a very low profile at home, not even looking out of the window of the flat in case he was seen by the Taliban, and wait for advice from the British Embassy.
He received a message telling him to leave everything he had at home and go to the airport.
“I got my wife and my son and sister and we ran,” he said.
He had to wear a face covering after leaving home, as he was terrified of being recognised and killed.
They got to the airport and waited for seven hours, but could not get to the gate as there were so many people. Abdul said members of the Taliban were there and shot people.
The family, including Abdul’s baby son, returned home late at night and he contacted friends to let them know he had been unsuccessful.
He said: “They said I had to try my best to get in the airport. They sent me in another direction to the entrance. They gave us a time early in the morning to go there.
“When we were leaving, we saw lots of Taliban there. We couldn’t make it again. They could easily recognise me,”
Abdul and his family were told to try again later that day and this time they reached the airport.
He sent a message to someone he knew and waited on the street for two hours, before they were collected and taken into the airport.
Fortunately Abdul had ID showing he worked for the British Embassy, which helped him.
Abdul said: “The first feeling I got that it was going to be safe was when I entered the airport. Some of my colleagues were there from the British forces. I thought hopefully I would survive.”
But he still knew that everyone was at risk from the Taliban, especially if he was recognised.
“They could do anything at any time,” he said.
“Especially before we entered the airport, we were scared how we would enter the airport and there were suicide bombers and shootings.”
Lots of people had already been killed, but Abdul said it was their “only option” if they wanted to get out alive.
They waited for hours for a flight, without food or water, and were eventually told it had been cancelled.
They were taken to a room with hundreds of people and hours later, they were finally able to get on a flight.
Once Abdul got on the aeroplane and left Kabul, he started to believe they would be safe.
The family - along with many other Afghans - flew to Dubai and then to Birmingham.
They travelled to Manchester by coach and stayed in a hotel for 10 days to quarantine, before going to stay in a hotel in the Wigan borough.
It was during the quarantine period that Abdul’s son celebrated his second birthday.
After travelling so far away from home - and away from the danger of the Taliban - the family can finally feel safe and are no longer in fear for their lives.
And they have been overwhelmed by the welcome they have received in Wigan.
Abdul said: “We have seen the most warm welcome from the British government and people. We couldn’t believe we would be able to survive.
“When we moved to Wigan - because we had been in quarantine and couldn’t go out before that - we were free to walk and go out. We have had a very warm welcome from the council and the NHS people who have supported us. People are coming to see us and there have been lots of donations.”
Abdul said the refugees hoped to have new lives in the UK, particularly those with young children.
Some are keen to work for the Government in future, either because they worked for British organisations in Afghanistan or because they want to make a contribution to the country after their evacuation.
And they are so grateful for all the help they have received so far,
Abdul said: “I want to thank the government of the UK and the British forces, Ministry of Defence, NHS, the council, all the people who have really helped us and been supportive, the hotel who have let us stay and fed us and brought us donations of clothes and shoes. Everyone is really pleased.
“A special thanks to the people of Wigan, because I am sure they have not seen lots of people from Afghanistan before, but they have really welcomed us all. They have all said ‘hi’ and asked how we came to Wigan.”
He said they would never forget all the help they had received, both to flee Kabul and settle in England, after fearing they would not survive.
“I know people had a very tragic time when they left Afghanistan to come to the UK, but they will never forget the love and generosity they have received,” he said.
“Hopefully they will go back one day.”
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