openDemocracyUK: Feature

‘We are forgotten’: UK-funded aid worker trapped in Afghanistan

Exclusive: Official who worked on UK-government projects is hiding in Kabul, and says UK authorities won’t reply to his messages

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Martin Williams
26 August 2021, 3.51pm
The aid worker told openDemocracy he could not risk going to Kabul airport
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Afghanistan Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

An Afghan official who worked on dangerous UK-funded projects, says he has been “forgotten” by the British government – and is now hiding from the Taliban in Kabul.

“The kids are scared,” he told openDemocracy. “They don’t go out… they’re asking me what’s happening. We’re under threat.”

The official, who has spent years working on British efforts to combat the narcotics trade in Afghanistan, believes his identity is known by the Taliban and fears retribution.

“We worked with those communities where narcotics was the source of terrorism,” he said.

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“We went to the most risky areas, like Helmand, Kandahar and Farah, where there was more poppy cultivation.

“That is quite risky right now, because those people are the support for the Taliban… But in return, they [the British government] only evacuate those who are close to them… Now, we are forgotten.”

We cannot feed our kids for more than a week or two. We are trying to eat twice instead of three times

Meanwhile, food is running out. “Since the Taliban captured Kabul, all banking systems have stopped,” he said.

“All the money I had is in the bank, so we cannot feed our kids for more than a week or two. We are trying to eat twice instead of three times to be careful.

“I cannot contact more people to ask for money – I don’t want to show myself. People will tell other people and they will find out my case.”

His desperate requests for help from the British government appear to have fallen on deaf ears. “Whenever we send an email, we don’t get a response,” he said.

A helpline, run by the British government became available 24-hours-a-day on Monday. But the aid official told openDemocracy he’d received no response from the number, despite waiting for “hours and hours”.

Yesterday, the government blamed a “technical glitch” after people phoning the hotline were redirected to a washing machine repair company.

When the Taliban closed in on the capital, the aid worker told openDemocracy that he rushed to a ‘safe house’ with his young children. But he fears the Taliban will find photos that he left at home, picturing him with the US ambassador and other Western officials.

“My friend has submitted a file to the [UK] government, and I’m hoping that something from their side may happen. But so far I haven’t received any official notification,” he said.

“My kids watch the news and they are really concerned about when and how soon we should leave the country.”

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The government has not confirmed how many people in Afghanistan are eligible to be evacuated to the UK. But a spokesperson said: “Nobody's life should be put at risk because they supported the UK government in Afghanistan.”

The aid worker said the British government “should feel our pain that we were the first in line, or at the greatest risk working in those areas”.

He added: “The Taliban knew that we were the people trying to reduce the amount of [narcotics] production.”

The aid worker has also helped with a series of other programmes and organisations – often funded by the UK government – working closely with the British and American embassies in Kabul.

Asked how he feels about the British government now, he told openDemocracy: “We don’t get angry, but we get sad – because we worked with no fear with them. We worked on their agenda.”

He said he was pessimistic that everyone associated with the British government would be evacuated by the deadline of 31 August because there are “people like me who will not take that much risk to go in the middle of 10,000 people at the airport”.

The only hope that we are safe is that they are at the airport – the US forces and British forces

His comments came shortly before a huge explosion at Kabul airport this afternoon.

“They need to change their evacuation plan,” he said of Western forces. “They should find other routes.

“The only hope that we are safe is that they are at the airport – the US forces and British forces. If they leave, then we are sure that – because of food, to feed our children – we will finally come out of our homes. And then they will find us.”

openDemocracy provided the man’s name and contact details to the government, but was given no further information about his case. We understand that the government has a policy of not commenting on individual cases.

A government spokesperson said: “Our staff are working tirelessly to facilitate the swift evacuation of British nationals, Afghan staff and others at risk. The scale of the evacuation effort is huge and we have helped more than 11,400 people leave Afghanistan since 13 August.”

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