‘The Taliban are seeking revenge’: ex-cultural worker on a UK project

·4-min read

Omar is in hiding – concerned about his five daughters, he has applied to move to Britain

Omar* worked for a UK-funded cultural programme, working on human rights and cultural projects. He lost his work when the Taliban arrived, and has applied to move to Britain. He has five daughters and is particularly concerned about their welfare.

Afghanistan: the left behind

The crowds fighting to get into Kabul airport for evacuation dispersed months ago, but while the scramble to leave Taliban-controlled Afghanistan became less visible when the last foreign troops left in August 2021, it got no less desperate.

Since then, reprisal killings have regularly been reported from across the country, including dozens detailed in a recent report from Human Rights Watch.

For those still in Afghanistan, living in hiding or in permanent fear for months now, the dangers seem to be increasing as the options for escape narrow.

The UK government has tightened rules for its ARAP visa programme for former employees.

A second scheme offering a path to safety to a wider section of Afghans at risk was heavily promoted by the government but it only began operating this month, and there are no details of how individuals can apply.

And while the Taliban have largely kept a promise to allow those with tickets and documents to fly out, Afghan passports are difficult to secure , visas are even more challenging, and flights are still prohibitively expensive.

This series features the stories of those who are trapped, in Afghanistan or in limbo as they search for safe haven, fearing for their lives from Taliban attacks or through hunger because they cannot work.

Emma Graham-Harrison

After the capture of Kabul by the Taliban, our lives changed completely because of my work for a British organisation. Although the Taliban said in a statement that they had declared an amnesty for government workers, they have not kept that promise. They are seeking revenge against those who worked with foreign institutions. I’ve heard reports of people being arrested at night and taken to unknown places.

Two months ago, I heard that the Taliban were looking for me and they came asking for me at my previous house. After that, l hid.

Whenever I feel [there is] a new threat, if I get an unexplained phone call, or a warning, we’re forced to move from one place to another. Sometimes we rent somewhere new, sometimes I move to the house of close relatives. In the past three months we’ve moved many times.

My main concern is for my family and my daughters. We live like prisoners. My daughters need fresh air and sunshine, especially my youngest daughter, who’s eight; she cries a lot and wants to go out. She has bad nightmares and no longer sleeps properly. During the day, she is asking me and her mother the same questions over and again: “Why can’t we go out? Why do we have to keep moving?” It is very difficult to answer these questions.

Women’s rights have been completely violated. My eldest daughter was studying to become a dentist, but she is no longer going to university and is stuck at home. She’s very depressed, feeling hopeless about her future. She says the Taliban have killed all her dreams.

Two years ago, a member of the Taliban proposed to her, but she refused. I’m worried that refusal will have repercussions for her now; I fear they want to force her to get married. All my daughters are trying to keep up their studies at home, trying to learn English better through online programmes, but everyone feels depressed and tired of life.

When you go out in Kabul you can see how our ordinary way of life has completely changed. A few moments ago, I went out to get bread and met people who were telling each other that today a young girl was beaten in the market for revealing her legs.

People’s economic situation has completely disintegrated. People are out on the street selling their property and household items to make money to buy food. You see fear in the people’s eyes.

We are managing with food because the UK-funded project I was working with sent money to cover our salary for six months. We’re still using the small amount of money left over for daily necessities, but other families are worried about their children suffering from malnutrition.

Even though I think my life is in danger, I don’t worry so much about myself. For better or worse, I’ve lived a good part of my life. But as a father, I think more about the future of my family.

It is very painful for me that my daughters are still very young and having to go through this. I can’t imagine what else they will have to endure. Even talking about it makes my voice catch in my throat. We are alive and yet we do not really live.

*The name has been changed for this article.

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