‘I feel I am looked at differently as a refugee’

·5-min read
 (ES Composite)
(ES Composite)

When I left the UK in April, I had just graduated as an army officer from Sandhurst. I felt proud as I flew back to my home country — I had dreams of helping other women and girls to join the army and improving the situation for women there.

But the situation with the Taliban quickly worsened over the summer and now I am back in the UK, not as a second lieutenant, but as a refugee. It feels completely different. People are kind, but I am looked at differently as a refugee.

Still, I was one of the lucky ones. I arrived in the UK five weeks ago after being evacuated on one of the last planes out of Kabul. I am safe now in a hotel, but I can’t feel truly safe until my family are safe.

They are stuck in Afghanistan — I was the only one of us to have the necessary paperwork to evacuate. The British soldiers at the airport said my husband could come with me — we rushed our marriage through a week before Kabul fell, knowing it would improve our chances of evacuating together — but no one else was allowed, so my mother and brother were turned away.

We didn’t have time for hugs, I just had to run. I’ll never forget the things I saw that day: the Taliban shooting people and beating women and children. People were screaming and crying. It will affect me forever. The soldiers would have allowed my husband to come with me, but we arrived separately and by the time my husband got to the airport, it was too late. The situation had escalated so much that the British soldiers closed the gates before he could get inside. He tried to call me but my phone had run out of battery and he had no documents so no one believed him. I was forced to evacuate on my own and I was told that my family would be able to follow on a later flight, but the situation got worse again and the British troops had to flee too.

Since then we’ve not heard anything about helping to evacuate my husband, mother and brother to the UK. I’m distraught and scared for what will happen to them. My brother — also a former Afghan soldier — has already been arrested by the Taliban twice. They wanted him to work for them. We had to pay them a lot of money to get him back last time and I am worried they will kill him if they capture him a third time.

The threat is very real. I know many people who have been shot at already: a family friend who worked for the government was killed by the Taliban last week after they searched his house and shot him in the head. They are killing anyone who used to work for the government.

As for me, my experience in the UK this time has been mixed. I arrived in London at the end of August and spent 26 days living in a single room in a quarantine hotel near Waterloo. There were other Afghan refugees in the hotel but I didn’t meet any of them. We couldn’t even go outside because of the Covid rules. I just had to stay inside my room and spoke to my family every day on the phone.

I will never forget the things I saw that day: the Taliban shooting people and beating women and children

Since then I’ve been moved to a new hotel in Exmouth in Devon, which is more comfortable. It can be lonely not knowing anyone but I am going for short walks and I am used to the British weather from my time at Sandhurst — it’s not as cold as some of the night exercises we did in the forests in Wales. I am lucky that I have clothes, food and sanitary supplies, and the people here are lovely. Last week the hotel owner offered to come with me and set up my bank account, and my British friends from Sandhurst are texting me every week, asking how they can help. But it’s my family’s safety I need help with — they are in hiding and scared for their lives. Most nights I lie awake worrying about them. I just want to get them out. I am very thankful to the UK government — they are doing a lot for us and it feels like they actually care. I should find out where I’m being relocated to in the next few weeks and my dream would be to go to Oxford. I’d love to study politics there, so when the situation gets better in Afghanistan I can go back to my country and do something to help the women: to get them jobs, to encourage them to join the army or go into politics, to work alongside men, to fight for their rights.

Women like me have worked so hard to get to where we are — I have female friends who were working in banking, modelling and working in libraries — but now they have to stay at home. It’s like a prison for them. We are always the first people in Afghanistan to lose our rights. But it’s not just the women in Afghanistan who are in danger. Everyone is suffering. Men and children are dying. I am grateful to be safe in the UK, but I’ll never stop dreaming for my country. I just want to give them a chance.

As told to Katie Strick

Names have been changed

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