Afghan twins separated during Kabul evacuation to be reunited in UK after year apart

Irfanullah arrived safely in Britain, but Obaidullah has been stranded in Strasbourg for a year

Irfanullah. Victoria Pertusa / The National
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For more than a year, two Afghan twin boys, 11, have been separated after one was mistakenly sent to France after the evacuation of Kabul while his brother safely arrived in the UK.

Now, after his case was raised by The National with the Home Office, the UK government has agreed to let Obaidullah Jabarkhyl come to Britain to be reunited with his brother Irfanullah.

On Wednesday, the youngster will be allowed to travel from Paris to London to live with his family.

The family's lawyer, Nick O’Loughnan, from London's Wilson Solicitors, told The National that the boy was "extremely vulnerable" in Strasbourg after experiencing significant trauma. He also described his delight that the child's nightmare will shortly be over.

“I am so happy and relieved that the Home Office has acted humanely in permitting Obaidullah to be reunited with his twin brother and other family members in the UK," Mr O’Loughnan said.

"I would like to thank Bob Blackman MP for raising Obaidullah’s case in Parliament and praise Obaidullah’s cousin, Qamar, for his tenacity in corresponding with different authorities to ensure Obaidullah’s travel arrangements could be made.”

The mistake happened when the twins, then aged 10, were separated from their parents during the Kabul Airport bombing last August as thousands of people tried to flee the Taliban.

Qamar Jabarkhyl, right, during a visit to France to see his cousin 11-year-old Afghan refugee Obaidullah Jabarkhyl. PA

This resulted in Obaidullah being sent to France on his own, while his twin Irfanullah was sent to the UK to be reunited with his cousin Qamar Jabarkhyl's family as planned under the UK's Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy.

Mr Jabarkhyl, 28, a British citizen, has spoken to The National about the family's "heartbreak" and his "desperation" to reunite the boys following their year-long trauma.

Following The National's coverage of their plight, Mr Jabarkhyl said the Home Office had been in touch with him to "urgently" process Obaidullah's visa application.

He expects it will be an emotional reunion when the boys hug each other for the first time since their separation.

Obaidullah and his parents, along with his twin brother and older sister, fled his home city of Jalalabad during the Taliban takeover last summer.

They wanted to catch a flight to the UK to stay with Mr Jabarkhyl, but were thrown apart as they waited to board a plane, when bombs detonated outside the airport on August 26.

“It sounded like complete chaos from what Obaidullah told me. He was holding hands with his twin brother and they ran one towards the airport gates and their family ran the other way," Mr Jabarkhyl said.

He believes the brothers were flown to Doha, where, exhausted from the journey, Obaidullah fell asleep and got lost when his twin went to the toilet.

Obaidullah was woken up and ushered in a different direction by strangers who promised him that he would be reunited with his brother on the plane, his cousin said.

But he was mistakenly put on a separate flight to France, where he has been stuck “unhappy and scared” ever since, in Strasbourg.

"When he didn't arrive in the UK with his brother, we thought he had died," Mr Jabarkhyl said.

"My uncle, his dad, searched so many places in Kabul looking for him. Then he received a call from France from someone who recognised my cousin. I panicked and contacted my MP for help."

Mr Jabarkhyl said a distressed Obaidullah contacted him regularly.

"He calls me 20 times a day asking where his mum and dad are and wanting to see his brother and cries," the engineer said.

"My heart just breaks. The boys should be together. I don't understand how they could leave an 11-year-old boy stranded in France without his family.

"He is a little boy who has been through a traumatic ordeal."

In March, a family reunion visa application was made for Obaidullah on the advice of the Home Office, which promised it would be dealt with swiftly, Mr Jabarkhyl said. But, until last month, the family had heard nothing.

"It has taken months for the Home Office to respond to us. Finally in March they told us to apply for a family reunion application so he could come and join us," Mr Jabarkhyl said.

"I have been to France to see him and sort out the biometric tests but for months we heard nothing."

He has accused former home secretary Priti Patel of failing to act on his case, and those of other Afghans, and of making "empty promises".

Mr Jabarkhyl arrived in the UK in 2003 after his family fled the last Afghanistan war. He grew up in London, obtaining a civil engineering degree from Kingston University, and became an engineer.

Obaidullah’s parents and sister could not be evacuated and have moved to a rural area of Afghanistan after Jalalabad was overtaken by the Taliban.

Their family had worked with Nato and Mr Jabarkhyl's uncle is now in hiding.

The boy's case was raised by Mr Jabarkhyl’s constituency MP, Mr Blackman, in the House of Commons, who has described the bureaucracy surrounding biometric cards and applications as “a nightmare”.

Up to 20,000 refugees are expected to arrive under the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme. People who were brought to safety under Operation Pitting — the initial British military rescue mission — were prioritised in the first part of the scheme.

“We do not routinely comment on individual cases," the Home Office told The National.

"During Operation Pitting, we evacuated 15,000 people from Kabul and we continue to do all we can to secure safe passage and enable British nationals and eligible Afghans to leave the country.”

Brothers Irfanullah and Obaidullah Jabarkhil speak on Facetime. Photo: Qamar Jabarkhil
Updated: September 06, 2022, 1:42 PM