How an Afghan reporter was left to the Taliban by the Foreign Office

‘Fahim’ was cleared to leave Kabul. Then the phone went dead. Now he moves house every two days to evade capture

Fahim, a journalist who had worked with British media organisations, was one of thousands of Afghans who approached the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) for help to escape Afghanistan after the Taliban’s conquest this summer.

Told he was cleared to travel with his family to the UK, he was also one of the many left behind as the promised help from the FCDO failed to materialise.

A Panjshiri journalist, Fahim (not his real name) has not slept in the same house for more two nights in a row since the Taliban takeover four months ago, fearful for his life.

Leslie Knott, a documentary film-maker who has been trying to help Fahim leave Afghanistan, told the Guardian what happened.

“On 18 August [in the midst of the evacuation crisis], I was asked for names of journalists who had worked with British news agencies so they could be included on a manifest for evacuation.

“[Fahim], his wife and nine children were included on this list that was submitted to the FCDO. He quickly received news that he was cleared by the FCDO and that he should pack his bags, keep his phone charged and be prepared to leave at any moment.

“No phone call ever came. Repeated attempts to reach the FCDO went nowhere.”

Fahim takes up the story. After initial contact by email with UK officials at the beginning of the evacuation crisis, he says he has heard nothing.

“They asked about me. Living in Kabul. What my problems were. It was a long time ago now. They were in touch two months ago. Since then I’ve heard nothing. I tried several times to contact them.”

Knott said what was most “heart-wrenching” was the knowledge that Fahim and his family were convinced by their contacts with the FCDO that they would be leaving. They even called her to ask how they should best prepare to leave.

“He wanted to know how much food they should bring for the children and how to secure their house. They were in the mindset they were leaving, so it was devastatingly disappointing.”

For many others who had worked closely with the west and western organisations, it was a similar story. Told they were cleared to travel, they say they did not hear back from UK officials either with coordination details for reaching the airport and evacuation flights, or later after the last flights had gone.

And while some managed to make their way to Pakistan and leave that way, many others have remained trapped in Afghanistan.

Another Afghan journalist, who like Fahim had been cleared to leave for the UK with his family, sent a message, seen by the Guardian, after the last British flight had left, saying simply they had been left behind and asking for help.

That journalist eventually managed to escape Afghanistan by himself.


Peter Beaumont

The GuardianTramp

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