The family of an 11-year-old Afghan refugee stranded in France after getting separated from his parents in the Kabul airport bombing has accused Priti Patel of making “false promises” over safe routes into the UK.
Qamar Jabarkhyl, a 28-year-old UK citizen, said his “heart melts” when his young cousin, Obaidullah, calls him crying every day from the tiny flat where he is staying in Strasbourg.
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 a bomb was detonated outside the airport on August 26.
Mr Jabarkhyl told the PA news agency: “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.”
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.
The youngster, then 10, 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” for the last eight months, Mr Jabarkhyl, an engineer, said.
A 22-year-old Afghan refugee living in a studio flat in Strasbourg has taken Obaidullah under his wing, but works long hours and cannot afford to care for him full-time.
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.
The same month, Obaidullah had his 11th birthday, thousands of miles away from his loved ones for the first time.
It just melts your heart when an 11-year-old boy is calling 20 times a day just to say, ‘hello’ and ‘hi'
“It was really hard. I asked the guy he lives with to buy him a birthday cake but he said he was crying all day long. He didn’t even want to cut his own cake,” Mr Jabarkhyl said.
“It just melts your heart when an 11-year-old boy is calling 20 times a day just to say ‘hello’ and ‘hi.’
“He’s not the same boy I would talk to on the phone in Afghanistan years ago, telling me hundreds of stories about his friends, what vegetables his family is growing in their garden.”
Four months later, the family say the Home Office has still failed to confirm whether Obaidullah will be able to stay with them in the UK.
“I just feel the Home Office don’t even care, with these empty promises Priti Patel makes about letting people from Afghanistan settle in the country,” Mr Jabarkhyl said.
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, while his twin made it safely to the UK, the cousin said.
The youngster is desperate to be reunited his brother and eventually the rest of his family, but his mother is terrified she may never see either of her sons again, according to Mr Jabarkhyl.
“She thinks that she will never see them again. She thinks she will be killed or they will be killed,” he said.
It comes after Mr Jabarkhyl’s constituency MP, Bob Blackman, raised Obaidullah’s case in the House of Commons, describing the bureaucracy surrounding biometric cards and applications as “a nightmare”.
The family’s lawyer, Nick O’Loughnan of Wilson Solicitors, said: “The Home Office has stated that this application would be dealt with ‘as a priority’, but Obaidullah is still waiting for a decision over four months after submission.
“We hope that the Home Office will deal with Obaidullah’s application straightforwardly and that he will be granted entry clearance to the UK to be reunited with his family urgently.”
Up to 20,000 refugees are expected to arrive under the ACRS, with individuals and families who were brought to safety under Operation Pitting – the initial British military rescue mission – prioritised in the first part of the scheme.
The two remaining routes will include allowing at-risk British Council and security contractors to be resettled in the UK and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to also refer refugees for resettlement.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We do not routinely 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.”