British nationals stuck in Kabul have described feeling abandoned by UK officials as it became clear that the promised help with evacuation was looking increasingly unlikely after the news that repatriation flights will soon be suspended.

Nine British citizens who had hoped to be evacuated this week said they had heard nothing from British officials since late on Thursday, and were feeling increasingly hopeless about the possibility of getting back to their homes in the UK.

One described the evacuation operation as “hugely mismanaged” and a “shambles”. All said they were increasingly concerned about their safety. They voiced frustration that it had become impossible to get through to the Foreign Office’s Afghanistan helpline and said emails to the dedicated Afghan assistance account were not being answered.

It is not clear how many British passport holders remain stranded in Afghanistan or how many eligible people are still waiting for evacuation. Ministers said there were only 1,100 people left to be rescued, but it seems likely that this figure significantly underestimates the total number of people who have been promised emergency visas.

One British citizen, who runs a gift shop in Canterbury, said he had spent the past two days hiding in a basement. “We think the Taliban are searching house to house, targeting anyone with a foreign passport. I’m scared for my life. I hope the Foreign Office contact me soon,” he said.

Earlier in the week he had been advised by British officials to go to the Baron hotel processing centre with his wife, their three-week-old son and two-year-old daughter. Although he is the only British passport holder, he was told they would all be permitted to travel to the UK. However he was unable to get close enough to the gate of the hotel to tell officials who he was.

“It was madness. There were thousands of people gathered there, pushing each other backwards and forwards. Most of them didn’t have any documents.

“We waited there for 13 hours but my name was never called,” he said, adding that the British officials should have done more to try to identify the UK passport holders in the crowds. He wondered if Afghan-born British nationals were not seen as a priority.

“They didn’t make a line, or try to separate British citizens from the others. If I was born in London, I wouldn’t have been treated like this. The Foreign Office has to answer that question.”

British soldiers secure the perimeter outside the Baron hotel in Kabul
British soldiers secure the perimeter outside the Baron hotel in Kabul, which has now ceased processing evacuees. Photograph: Marcus Yam/LA Times/Rex/Shutterstock

An Uber driver from London was also dismayed that UK officials at the airport had not come out to search for British passport holders in the crowds this week. He had spent several days queueing with his family outside the airport, and was very grateful to have had an email from the Foreign Office warning that an attack was imminent on Thursday, so he avoided the blast. “We were there for several days before that, calling out ‘I am British, I am British’, but no one came to help,” he said.

His alarm was echoed by a 42-year-old minicab driver from south London, who said he had felt despair when he read that evacuation flights were going to end.

“We’re thinking that we might go by road, but we need advice about where to go. We need to make plans, but when we call the [Foreign Office] numbers, they aren’t responding. We feel clueless,” he said.

He said he felt that friends with German and Australian passports had received better assistance to get to the airport earlier in the week. “They were calling their citizens to gather at a certain spot in the city, and sending buses for them. No one contacted us.”

He had compiled the names of 34 British citizens he was in contact with who were stranded in Kabul. “No one has been in touch to say they have been evacuated today, so far as I know they are all still here. There may be hundreds of others we don’t know about,” he said.

A BBC World Service reporter in Kabul said he had received a repatriation letter earlier this week and was told that transport would be arranged to the airport because he had a three-month-old child. He managed to get on a bus to the airport on Thursday, but the evacuation was cancelled after the explosion, and he was told to return home and wait for news.

“The last contact I had was at 12.30 last night. They said they would contact me immediately as soon as something is arranged. They didn’t even mention that it might not happen.

“When I call the helpline they give only stock answers – wait for someone to call you. The local Afghan UK embassy number has not been working for days. I’ve sent over a dozen emails to Foreign Office accounts, to the email accounts they asked me to contact, and I haven’t had a single response from any email, which is shocking.

“This is an absolutely disastrous scenario for me and my family. Reprisals have started and the Taliban are targeting individuals. I’m well-known in Kabul. If the government doesn’t come up with a plan to help us, unfortunately lives will be lost.”

A 31-year-old factory worker from London said he too felt very lucky to have narrowly avoided the attack, after spending three days and nights trying to show his British passport close to the scene of the explosion. “We feel depressed and hopeless now. We don’t know if they are going to leave us like this or if they are going to make a way to take us from here,” he said.

Crowds of people attempt to show their documents to US troops outside the airport in Kabul
Crowds of people attempt to show their documents to US troops outside the airport in Kabul. Photograph: Reuters

Another British citizen, a 32-year-old mechanic from Derby, was also waiting for instructions about what to do next. “They’ve told us to stay somewhere safe and wait for further advice. We’re in a horrible situation; we’re very scared and can’t go out.” He was thinking about trying to drive across the border, but his wife and children do not have passports, and he was uncertain about whether they would be allowed out.

The guards who provided security for the British embassy in Kabul were also pessimistic about their chances of fleeing Afghanistan on Friday, after a failed attempt by the international security firm GardaWorld to evacuate them. “We successfully gathered 185 families of British embassy workers, about 1,000 people in total, and got them to the airport, but we were not allowed in,” the guards’ supervisor said. “Right now for us there is no hope.”

Oliver Westmacott, the GardaWorld president for the Middle East and Africa, said attempts to get the guards out would continue either overland or on commercial flights “once things calm down in the coming months”.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “More than 13,700 people including British nationals, our Afghan staff and others at risk have been evacuated from Afghanistan by the UK since Saturday 14 August in one of the biggest operations of its kind in history.

“We will continue to do all we can to deliver on our obligation to get British nationals and eligible Afghans out of the country while the security situation allows.”


Amelia Gentleman

The GuardianTramp

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