Bittersweet reunion in UK for Afghan family as disabled son left behind

Former British Army interpreter reunited with parents and siblings but brother, who was shot 14 times by the Taliban, still lives in fear in homeland

Jamal Barak with his family outside the Ramada hotel in Coventry. Photo: Jamal Barak
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Jamal Barak’s joy at the recent arrival of his family in Britain has been tempered by sadness for the brother left behind in Afghanistan.

A former Afghan interpreter for the British Army, Mr Barak came to the English Midlands city of Coventry in 2015 on the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (Arap) scheme.

He helped to bring his father, mother and their young children to the country last week but his brother, Mahmood, an interpreter who was shot 14 times by the Taliban, was told he did not qualify for resettlement.

“He feels incredibly hopeless, it doesn’t feel fair. When my parents told him they were leaving, his face dropped and he started crying. I spoke to him the other day and he begged me to get him out, the Taliban are harassing him and he’s scared,” Mr Barak told The National.

Mr Barak had been trying to get his father, Shista Gul, who worked as a gardener for the British Army in the military compound in Helmand Province for seven years, accepted on the Arap scheme since the beginning of the year but said his applications were repeatedly rejected by the Ministry of Defence and Home Office because “he didn’t meet the criteria”.

“It was extremely hard. I was fighting with the MoD 10 months, they refused his case several times because he was just a gardener,” said Mr Barak.

Officials eventually accepted Mr Gul’s application and he, his wife and four of his sons arrived in the UK from Pakistan last week. The family are completing their mandatory quarantine period in a hotel. Mr Barak said they were “incredibly happy to be safe” but felt anxious about the son they couldn’t bring with them.

Those accepted on Arap are allowed to bring spouses and dependents under 18 but as Mahmood is 20 he was told he did not qualify for relocation.

Mahmood worked as an interpreter for construction workers on Helmand Province military base. He was shot 14 times by the Taliban after they found out he worked with the British and he now walks with a limp. His parents were his primary carers and Mr Barak used to send money to help his brother but those avenues of assistance are now endangering Mahmood’s life. Mr Barak told The National that his brother had been detained and questioned by the Taliban for three days after they found out his family had fled.

“The situation in Helmand is really bad. He can’t work, there is no money but a Taliban commander told Mahmood that if they find out he has been talking to us here in the UK there would be consequences.”

“We’ve given a lot to this country. I was in the Army since 2007, I was shot three times by the Taliban. My older brother was killed by the Taliban. My father, uncle and younger brother all worked as interpreters with the British,” said Mr Barak, who explained that his family are regarded as an enemy by the hardline militants.

Mr Barak is now lodging a separate application for his brother to be accepted on the Arap scheme.

It isn’t just his own family for whom he’s concerned. The former soldier, who now works in a supermarket in Coventry, has been using his spare time to help other vulnerable Afghans reach safety.

“We’re trying our best to help those who have run away, with emails, filling forms, finding avenues for them to get out,” said Mr Barak, who is co-ordinating with some of the British soldiers he knows.

“I’m worried about the colleagues that have been left behind.”

Updated: October 24, 2021, 7:45 AM