Hopes are rising for workers at an animal rescue charity in Kabul, after UK officials began processing visas for them to leave Afghanistan.
British former Royal Marine commando Paul “Pen” Farthing has been lobbying for a way out for his 25 Afghan staff since Kabul fell to the Taliban last Sunday.
In what was described as a significant breakthrough, Mr Farthing is in talks with UK officials to get his staff to Britain.
But security fears are holding up the evacuation as chaos in Kabul prevents access to the airport.
Dominic Dyer, an animal welfare campaigner lobbying on Mr Farthing’s behalf, said the UK’s Foreign Office was dealing with visa applications for staff and their families.
“We are making significant progress to get that completed now,” he said on Sunday.
“Huge progress is being made.
“Everything is moving very quickly now, but also the crisis around the airport in Kabul is getting worse by the hour.”
Mr Farthing has said he will not leave until he is certain of the safety of his staff, who he fears could face reprisals after working for a western charity.
He said his staff’s problems were being compounded by closed banks and the suspension of money transfers from abroad.
“I can’t pay the staff wages, so they can’t go out and buy food,” he said. “This humanitarian disaster is just getting worse and worse.”
Staff at the charity, Nowzad, hope to be added to a rescue list of people who will be flown back to Britain in the coming days.
British ambassador Laurie Bristow has been widely praised for staying in Afghanistan to help manage evacuations from Kabul’s airport.
Nato personnel are securing the airport but there have been reports of shootings and violence in the surrounding area. Britain said on Sunday that seven people had died in the chaos.
At least 12 people were killed earlier, in and near the airport, Nato and Taliban officials have said.
The Taliban have set up checkpoints in the city while desperate Afghans with no visas or passports have rushed the airport in a bid to escape.
Mr Farthing appealed to US forces to secure an access corridor to the airport so that he and his staff could get out if their visas are approved.
“People are dying here,” he said. “You can tell me as many times as you like that there’s an aeroplane sat on that tarmac – I cannot get to it.”
Nowzad’s case was raised in the UK Parliament this week after the charity’s supporters appealed directly to politicians to intervene.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said ministers would do “everything we can” to help Mr Farthing and others facing particular difficulties.
Nowzad hopes to bring the animals in its care to safety outside Afghanistan.
A wealthy investor in the US has donated money to charter a plane after Nowzad launched fundraising efforts to get its cats and dogs out.
Mr Dyer said there was no shortage of people wanting to adopt the animals being looked after by Nowzad.
“We’re not going to leave anyone behind – all the people and animals will be coming out of Afghanistan,” he said.