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Evacuation of Afghanistan – One Year On

By August 15, 2022February 7th, 2023Refugee Voices

“I vividly remember that day when the Taliban reached Kabul: everything seemed normal.  I received the news while I was in the office, so we closed the office to be with our family.”

Like many other Afghans, Mohammad’s life turned upside down overnight when the US-led coalition withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban returned to power. As allies’ forces started to withdraw, province after province fell into the Taliban’s hands, eventually leading to the Taliban’s takeover after 20 years. One year on from what is now known as ‘the fall of Kabul’, Mohammad shares his reflections on the experience.

I worked in operations and human resources office at the United Nations in Kabul for more than 20 years. I have an MBA and a degree in medicine. I practised as a part-time doctor. My wife used to work for women’s organisations. We were happy in our city: we had a lovely house and car, had hobbies, spent our spare time in gyms, on weekends going on vacations; everything was normal! We had comfortable and peaceful lives.  

I’m 43 years old and born in Kabul. I’m getting my second master’s in business and HR management here in the UK. I love education. I come  from a well-educated family, and I believe we need to keep our knowledge up to date. It is crucial to me that my kids get a proper education. 

Unfortunately, everything changed on 15 August 2021 when the Taliban reached the capital, Kabul, and the government collapsed. In the beginning, when the Taliban started progressing, everyone was confused, scared and shocked. We didn’t expect them to regain strength and, after 20 years, take over the country. We always heard about local conflicts between insurgents and the government but never anticipated the danger.   

Taliban advances were directly related to the level of fear among people. Everyone was looking for a way out. We still remember the terrifying experience of living under Taliban rules and can’t relive that hell. How little we knew: our nightmares came to reality.   

Before this, I obtained a UK student visa as I planned to continue my education in the UK, but the problem was that my wife and children didn’t have a visa, nor did the rest of my family. I had to save my family and leave the country, but I didn’t know how. Taliban were progressing quite fast, and they reached Kabul in a matter of days.   

I vividly remember that day when the Taliban reached Kabul: everything seemed normal.  I received the news while I was in the office, so we closed the office to be with our family. Like my wife, she was at work too, but before we could reach home, the Taliban recaptured the city. They were everywhere, and the town was in absolute chaos; people were frightened and desperately looking for a way to escape. My wife and I, separately, had to pass through a mass crowd to get home; the route, which usually takes around 30 minutes, took almost four hours.  

We stayed home and hopelessly followed the news. As expected, we were thrown back to 20 years ago: schools, universities and workplaces were shut down. Like many others, we were looking for a way out, so after a month, we successfully obtained an entry visa to Pakistan. Naturally, our journey to Pakistan wasn’t an easy one. The Taliban stopped us many times and interrogated us about our destination as they suspected we were leaving Afghanistan. Eventually, we arrived at the border, and after hours of waiting, we got into Pakistan.   

Arriving in Islamabad was not a happy ending: we left everything and everyone behind. It was just us: me, my wife and three young children with suitcases. The Taliban took my beloved country hostage once again. We lost our home. My mother, my brother, and all my loved ones were left behind in Afghanistan, which made us worried sick. What will happen to them? How would they get out? How will they survive? It was and still is unbearable. Our time in Islamabad was challenging. When you immigrate to a new country, everything is strange, and you must restart your life from scratch. In addition to economic and social difficulties, the language barriers and culture shock hit us badly. People were not so welcoming. 

On the other hand, my journey to the UK was easy. as I mentioned earlier, I had a student visa, and shortly after, my family joined me in the UK.  

I rented a flat out of my pocket and took my family there. Until this point, everything was ok. We experienced extreme hardship before reaching the UK but living here is not easy. Shortly after arrival, we claimed asylum at the Home Office. We have been here nearly a year and still have so many problems.  

The beginning was tough: understanding the school system or registering GP, transportation, communicating with locals, cultural shock, and language barriers. Even now, after months, many of our issues still exist. We haven’t adopted the new environment as much as we wanted to; we are carrying too much burden. Our families and their fate back home; Afghanistan’s situation is getting worse; people live in absolute poverty, and many political and social issues exist. Women can’t work, and girls cannot go to school. The living conditions are worsening day by day. There is no safety; cities are regularly under suicide bomber attacks. Being constantly worried negatively impacts our mental health and physical health, which creates barriers to a smooth integration into the UK.  

On top of that, financial difficulties added another layer. I don’t have the right to work; none of us has. The only thing we can do is wait for the Home Office to decide our fates.