Escape from Kabul: relief for people flown back to Britain

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said about 1,000 people were being rescued per day

As Britain scrambles to rescue its personnel from Kabul, some of those who made it out of Afghanistan have spoken of their relief at escaping the Taliban.

Nato countries are manning Kabul’s airport to evacuate their own nationals and Afghan civilians who helped the 20-year campaign.

Those evacuated will be given Covid-19 vaccines as part of a healthcare package when they arrive in Britain.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday that about 1,000 people were being rescued per day from the airport.

They included Layloma Hafizi, a 79-year-old British-Afghan national who was stranded in Kabul after travelling there for a family funeral.

She was knocked unconscious in a scrum of people trying to escape Kabul after the Taliban takeover, but finally made it back to the UK on Friday.

“We’re so relieved that she’s safe and she’s out of this nightmare,” her daughter Fereba said. “My mum told me about her experience and it’s heartbreaking, shocking and absolutely nightmarish.”

Mike Crofts, who served with the British Army in Afghanistan, said one of his former interpreter colleagues had arrived safely on Saturday morning.

“I am beyond relieved,” he said. “Spare a thought for those fleeing who leave behind family in Afghanistan.”

The returnees also included Peymana Assad, an Afghan-born member of a London borough council, who came back on a British military flight.

“I witnessed the chaos, panic, fear,” she said. “I never thought in my life I would witness the return of the Taliban.”

Kitty Chevallier, a British aid worker who left Afghanistan, described the fear of Afghans who were left behind with no way to flee Kabul.

“I’m very aware of how immensely lucky I was to get helped out of the country,” she told ITV News. “I did feel protected the whole time.”

Others in Kabul continue to wait for updates, including Afghan staff at an animal charity run by a British former Royal Marine Commando.

Paul “Pen” Farthing has promised he will not leave Afghanistan until his staff are guaranteed safety and is lobbying ministers to give them a route to Britain.

Hundreds of thousands of people are thought to have been displaced during the fighting as the Nato withdrawal led swiftly to the Taliban takeover.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the situation was “getting slightly better” at the airport as Nato forces co-ordinate their operations.

Washington has signalled that an August 31 deadline to end the US military presence could be extended in order to complete evacuations.

“We’ll continue to work as fast as we can over the next few days,” Mr Johnson said. “But I’m not going to pretend to you that it’s easy.”

Healthcare offer

Britain plans to take in about 20,000 Afghans over five years under a scheme which critics say should be more generous.

The UK government announced on Friday that Afghans arriving in Britain would receive a Covid-19 vaccine at quarantine hotels.

The healthcare offer to incoming Afghans includes providing clothing for refugees and allowing people to stay in large family groups in quarantine.

Some local authorities in the UK have come forward to offer homes to Afghan refugees, with London Mayor Sadiq Khan offering sanctuary in the capital.

Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick said that ministers “urgently need more offers of support” to help Afghan personnel find a home.

The rescue effort was overshadowed this week by criticism of UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab for failing to call his Afghan counterpart to arrange evacuations.

Mr Raab, who was on holiday in Greece, said advice from officials to call his Afghan colleague had quickly been “overtaken by events” as Kabul fell to the insurgents.

But the furore led to calls from the opposition Labour Party for Mr Raab to resign or be sacked by Mr Johnson.

Updated: August 22nd 2021, 11:33 AM
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