Afghan twins hug after a year apart in UK and France

Obaidullah and Irfanullah Jabarkhyl, 11, enjoy an emotional reunion after being mistakenly parted following Kabul evacuation

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The moment was one that Obaidullah Jabarkhyl thought would never come.

For more than a year, the 11-year-old boy was separated from his brother, Irfanullah, after the pair were accidentally parted in the aftermath of the chaotic evacuation of Kabul.

The Afghan brothers were supposed to be sent to safety in the UK following the Taliban takeover, but Obaidullah was mistakenly sent to France, where he was stranded in a camp in Strasbourg being cared for by fellow refugees.

However, on Wednesday, after months of red tape and fierce battles with the UK Home Office, he was finally reunited with his twin at London's St Pancras International Station. The tears flowed as they clung to each other, barely able to speak.

The reunion came after border officials approved Obaidullah's paperwork and put him on a train in Paris.

Hours before this, however, Obaidullah called his family, mistakenly fearing that officials were simply moving him to a different refugee camp.

"He rang me this morning so scared that they were moving him to a different camp," his cousin, Qamar Jabarkhyl, told The National.

"After months of trying to reunite them and bring him to the UK to safety and to start a new life with his family, everything has happened so quickly. He told his roommate last night to pinch him. He did not believe this was actually happening.

"Irfanullah has taken the day off school. This is the first time they have seen each other in more than a year. We are so overwhelmed and excited as a family to finally be together again.

"It's been so emotional. We can't believe that our ordeal is finally over and the boys can begin their new life together in safety with us in the UK."

Travellers at St Pancras watch on as Irfanullah, in the foreground, and Obaidullah Jabarkhyl are reunited at St Pancras station in London. Amy McConaghy / The National

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

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

Mr Jabarkhyl, 28, a British citizen, stood on the platform on Wednesday proudly holding aloft an Afghan flag to welcome the youngster to the UK.

"He has been all alone for so long," he said.

"It's been so wrong to have him on his own all this time. We have been so worried.

"Today, we are so excited to finally know he is safe. We have decorated his bedroom with balloons and toys. I'm enrolling him at school so he can start as soon as possible with his brother, but, for now, they have so much catching up to do after a year apart.

"We are planning a big family celebration and we are just looking forward to giving him so much love and care and making up for all the lost time."

Qamar Jabarkhyl and his cousin Irfanullah at St Pancras in London await the arrival of Irfanullah's 11-year-old twin brother Obaidullah Jabarkhyl from France. The boys were separated a year ago during the evacuation of Kabul. Amy McConaghy / The National

It was a tense moment in the Eurostar entrance hall as other passengers appeared first. But, when Obaidullah finally stepped nervously into sight, the anguish on Irfanullah's face was replaced with tears of joy and he ran to embrace his brother.

The twins held each other, neither able to speak at first, as the toll of their trauma hit home.

Irfanullah eventually broke the silence, asking: "How are you?"

Moments later, the boys told The National: "We feel so happy. We just want to move on and forget the past."

A crowd of campaigners cheered as the family's year-long ordeal finally came to an end.

After 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.

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

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

He believes the brothers were flown to Doha, where, exhausted from the journey, Obaidullah fell asleep. When he woke, Irfanullah had gone to the toilet and Obaidullah got lost trying to find him.

The youngster was then ushered in a different direction by strangers who promised 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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

The Home Office told The National it does not comment on individual cases.

"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," the spokesperson added.

For the twins, their ordeal is coming to an end.

As they left the station hand in hand for their new life together in north London, Mr Jabarkhyl vowed to provide the brothers with the best start possible.

"I will give them as much support as I can, by putting them in school, occupying them with clubs, so they can be moving forward with their lives, because we are his parents now, technically.

"I may never get their parents for them, but I promise I will be the parent figure for them going forward."

Updated: September 08, 2022, 2:06 PM
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