‘They left us to die’: UK’s Afghan aid staff in hiding from Taliban

Afghan staff who worked as contractors on British aid projects fear for their lives after they were not granted resettlement in Britain.

The Guardian has been in contact with four families who said they were targeted by the Taliban because they worked for the UK government, and have now been forced into hiding.

Ahmed Shakib, who worked for six years at Adam Smith International (ASI), a consultancy hired for a number of UK-funded projects in Afghanistan, said Britain did not help him with the evacuation. He, his wife and his children, ages 9, 7 and 3, fled for their lives.

“Every minute, every moment, is crucial for us. We randomly change our home address to disguise ourselves,” said Shakib, who spoke to The Guardian while hiding in a remote location outside Kabul. “The day begins with fear and ends with despair.”

The family fled their home in Kabul for the first time in July, when Shakib began receiving death threats.

They were lucky enough to escape two weeks ago when they moved elsewhere one night before the Taliban knocked on the door of a relative’s home where they were staying.

During his time at ASI, Shakib worked on the budget project of the Afghan Ministry of Finance together with international consultants.

He applied for the Afghanistan Assistance Policy and Resettlement Program (Arap), a British government plan to help people who worked with the British government relocate, on August 18 after the Taliban captured Kabul.

Shakib received an email response four days later, requesting details of his family. Excited, he prematurely told his children that they might be leaving soon. But he hasn’t heard from them since he replied.

He now believes that his family is unlikely to qualify under the current criteria. Other people’s applications were rejected because they were not directly employed by the British government.

British evacuation flight from Kabul. Hundreds of Afghans who worked on British projects feel abandoned. Photo: LPhot Ben Shread / Ministry of Defense / EPA

“My daughter now asks me every morning for the latest updates on our evacuation,” Shakib said. “My children constantly ask about her future. My wife is completely devastated. They let us die.”

The couple are terrified that the Taliban will soon catch up.

“I want to live a life free of fear. I want peace for my family in an atmosphere of democracy,” said Ahmed’s wife. “I just want us to be alive.”

In response to a question from the Guardian on whether it plans to expand Arap’s eligibility to include contractors, the UK Defense Ministry said: “During Operation Pitting, we worked tirelessly to safely evacuate as many people as possible from Afghanistan, transporting more than 15,000 people from Kabul, including thousands of Arap applicants and their families.

 

“We will continue to do our best to support those who have supported us, and our commitment to those eligible for resettlement is not limited by time and will continue. The Arap scheme remains open for applications and we will continue to support those eligible.”

ASI said it employed hundreds of Afghan nationals in UK-funded projects between 2002 and 2018. A spokesperson said: “Based on legitimate threats to life received by our former employees, we believe that the Taliban do not discriminate between Afghan nationals who have been directly involved in international development work, benefiting the UK government – eligible for Arap – and those who have been employed by contractors such as ASI on projects designed and funded by the UK government.

“We continue to pressure the UK government to extend the Arap scheme to Afghan nationals who were previously indirectly employed by the UK government through contractors working on behalf of the UK government and who are more vulnerable and more vulnerable. “.

Zabih Deshiwal *, 29, has worked on UK sponsored anti-terrorism, security and justice projects for contractors ASI and Coffey International, which later became Tetra Tech International Development. He stayed on the run with his wife, his three-year-old son and his three-month-old daughter for four weeks.

 

“My friend, who has a shop next to my house [in Kabul], told me that the Taliban were looking for me and others who worked for foreigners,” he said.

Deshwal applied for the Arab scheme in May, but was rejected because he was not a direct employee of the British government, despite his role in high-risk projects. He appealed the decision in late July and has yet to receive a response.

The family rationalizes its diet by eating only two meals a day. Deshiwal found it impossible to fall asleep, as the slightest noise caused him to panic.

“Our lives are now in great danger,” he said. “We can’t stay like this for long. It’s like an endless nightmare that gets worse every day.”

Yasmin Ahmed, director of Human Rights Watch in the UK, said the UK government should not “split its hair” on whether someone is a contractor or a direct employee.

She said, “People run from hiding to hiding.” The UK has days, not months, to save lives. He must do everything in his power to fulfill his promise and resettle the Afghans who supported us when we needed them most. ”

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