UK Afghan families left feeling distraught and helpless

An Afghan steward seen chanting, during the demonstration in Westminster. The Afghans rallied in London organised by The Watan, to condemn acts of terrorism by the Taliban in Afghanistan [Getty Images]
5 min read
09 September, 2021
After the conclusion of the NATO withdrawal of Afghanistan, The New Arab speaks with UK-Afghan families about their relatives left behind, and how the newly imposed Taliban rule will affect their livelihoods and expectations for the future.

“My daughters and family are there and I cannot get hold of them,” an ex-army officer, who has been in the UK for 18 years and is the owner of a popular Afghan restaurant in London, tells The New Arab. Choosing to remain anonymous, he expresses how he is scared for the safety of those in Kabul. 

Breaking down as he speaks, he goes on to explain how it’s affecting his family and his business. He can’t sleep at night, has lost his appetite and is feeling anxious because he is worried about everyone, not just his family.

He had married his brother’s wife after he died in the army, leaving behind five children.

"My family is stuck in Afghanistan and there is nothing I can do about it, I feel helpless"

His one daughter who is in her 40’s had run away to India and he is unable to get hold of her. His other daughter is still in Kabul and he doesn’t know if she is safe either, expressing his fears for the future of Afghanistan.

The future is unknown, it’s in God’s hands," he says holding his hands together. "I pray for peace and safety for everyone. They are all my family.”

He feels very sad and doesn’t know what more to do to help. "All we can do is support in any way possible, and try to send supplies back home."

Mohammed* who has come from Kabul and is now in quarantine with his family is deeply stressed. With a tremble in his voice, a sense of panic and despair, he says, “We are ruined. They destroyed us, things will never be the same and what’s to come is going to be harrowing to see.”

He continues, “As the Taliban threat grows no one is going to be spared. I blame them and the government, they did this and they have destroyed so many lives. How can I rebuild my family’s life here, when so many of my family members are still there? I can’t sleep, I can’t eat and I feel sick in my stomach from hearing the news, it’s unbearable.”

Mohammed feels Afghanistan has been abandoned by America and other countries. "These people are ignoring us and turned their back on us. They are just saving their own people.

"It’s eating me up inside, not just because of my family being at direct threat of the Taliban but also for the millions of educated, new generations of ours who have been studying and working hard there, what will happen to them?"

An Afghan woman raising a placard that says '20,000 is NOT enough', during the demonstration in Westminster.
Many of the Afghan community in the UK have been angered by the limited number of refugees being allowed into the country by the Johnson administration [Getty Images]

He believes that the history and experience Afghans have had from the Taliban has been disgusting and "as humans, we have been treated so badly... I pray for peace and light in Afghanistan and for the people’s safety. It’s a shocking situation to be in and it’s scary. I am having nightmares where I wake up in a sweat.”

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Singh* who owns a corner shop in London started to cry when he tells The New Arab how difficult it is for him. His sister and her family are in Kabul, he can’t get through to her and doesn’t even know if she is alive.

“I own a business, this shop needs to run seven days a week as I need to provide for my family, but I can’t physically function, I feel like I am dead.”

His sister is staying at a Gurdwara (a place of worship for Sikhs) that is providing shelter for many Sikh families who still live in Afghanistan. He hasn’t spoken to his sister for over a week and broke down in tears. He explains how he feels lost, empty and hurt. “I want to help but what can I do thousands of miles away.”

His only hope is ‘prayer’, as he adds that he is unable to eat, sleep or even talk to the customers that come in the shop as his mind is constantly thinking about his sister. He believes that the women are treated really badly and that they are being controlled. “The Taliban are destroying everything,” Singh adds. 

This has brought back severe trauma for him, “I went through this when I was there and my family and I suffered a lot. When I came to the UK in 2001 life was so different and it was a safe place. But people are now being forced to live like the Taliban and this war will never end.”

With his head in his hands, he goes on, “Women have no rights, my sister is suffering and I am so hurt. I just want her to be here with my family.” They want justice, and they feel like nothing is being done to help the people by the government of the country. “People mean nothing there, they are being treated like animals, not humans. My sister and her children are scared, they were crying to me last time we spoke and I was heartbroken.”

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The Sikh community in Kabul are using the Gurdwara to help protect as many people as they can, while Sikhs in the UK are sending supplies and donations to them.

"There is a huge Afghan community in the UK and many of us have families there," he adds. “I am mentally exhausted and am at a real low point in my life, I feel like I may never see my sister and family again unless something is done to help them and everyone in danger.

“My humble request to the UK government and international countries is to help the people in Afghanistan to a safe place before it gets worse," he concludes. 

*(Full names not shared for safety reasons)

Minreet Kaur is a freelance journalist at the BBC and Sky News.