Afghans gather in London to mark poignant anniversary of Taliban takeover

A minute's silence was observed by young and old to remember their loved ones left behind

Afghanistan and Central Asian Association remembers the Taliban takeover one year on

Afghanistan and Central Asian Association remembers the Taliban takeover one year on
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There were sombre scenes at a gathering of Afghans in west London on Monday, as dozens poured into a community centre to mark the first anniversary of the fall of Kabul and remember their loved ones left behind in their Taliban-controlled homeland.

Families and refugees staying at bridging hotels in the Feltham area travelled to the nearby Afghan and Central Asian Association (ACAA), where they were greeted by hugs and smiles from fellow evacuees whom they have over the past 12 months come to regard as close friends.

Adults and children stood to observe a poignant minute’s silence to commemorate a year to the day since the hardline militants retook control after a 20-year insurgency.

The ACAA, established by a family of former Afghan refugees to help new arrivals navigate the British system, has for years served as a centre for people from troubled nations but in the past 12 months it has taken on a new meaning. The charity offers weekly classes for women, which include activities such as pottery making, embroidery, art, cookery and language skills. Volunteers and staff also offer assistance to those evacuated who are living in hotels, helping them access medical care and submit requests for housing.

“Since August 15, exactly this day one year ago, we had queues lining up at this organisation at 6am asking for support to bring their families home,” Sheekeba Nasimi, the charity’s legal and development co-ordinator, told guests.

“One year on, we’re still trying to get people out. Our staff members are still in Afghanistan and have yet to leave and are fearing persecution, leaving and escaping into neighbouring countries. Please don’t forget about Afghanistan.”

Newsha Nodoost, 25, is among those volunteering at the centre to give back to the charity that she says treated her like a family member when she arrived in London from Iran this year.

“Sometimes I was really alone and [the ACAA] treated me like family and spent time with me, because each minute just feels like an hour or a day maybe,” she told The National. “But when you have people around you, you feel like you’re not alone and finally you’re finding your spot.”

The young woman is fluent in English and hopes to work as a translator for Farsi-speaking people seeking National Health Service treatment. But for now, her vision is on hold while she awaits a work visa.

In the meantime, she leads women’s workshops at the ACAA and teaches English to new arrivals. Fear of losing a connection to one’s culture is a theme that runs through the conversations she has with Afghans and Iranians in the UK, so Ms Nodoost works to find creative ways to make learning about Britain fun and exciting.

“Here we are helping them, telling them that we honour your language, we honour your culture but let’s learn about British culture,” she said. “We are not going to forget about your culture, your language.”

Abdul Saboor Asheq, a 30-year-old Afghan living in a hotel with his wife Engila, 27, and three young daughters, is also keen to obtain the right to work in the UK so he can get on with his new life.

Only weeks after touching down in the UK in February, the young couple welcomed a baby daughter to the world and while they are grateful to be raising their family in safety, hotel living is not ideal.

He dreams of using his skills and experience as a field co-ordinator for a women’s rights project in Afghanistan to provide for his family in the UK.

“I am feeling very good because my family is safe,” he told The National.

“[But] I am feeling, let’s not give up and let’s work with other people, with this kind of association, those who have skills, experience, to build our lives more, to settle here, and do something for this government, for our lives and help those who are escaping.

“When I came here I was really interested to study and get more skills, more knowledge, because I’m very interested in education [and] that people should educate themselves more and more.”

Mrs Asheq is a regular face at the ACAA’s workshops and was last week overjoyed to be reunited with her childhood friend at the centre. The two women, staying at different bridging hotels in West London, had not seen each other since their teenage years.

“I was so happy when I saw her, I caught her and kissed her,” Mrs Asheq told The National. “I was so excited. I hadn’t seen her in nine years.

“She said, 'oh, you’ve got three kids, you’re very active!' When I saw her, I remembered all those moments that we spent together.”

Updated: August 16, 2022, 11:47 AM