Afghans celebrate first festive season in UK after fleeing Kabul

From Taliban to tinsel: Afghan translators celebrate first festive season in their UK safe haven after fleeing Kabul following US withdrawal

  • The Sabawoons spent last Christmas hiding in their mud-walled Kabul home
  • Waheed Sabawoon worked with coalition troops for three years before leaving
  • Waheed, his wife and children now call Bristol home and are enjoying Christmas 
  • Last Christmas, Waheed Sabawoon and his family were hiding in the darkened rooms of their mud-walled house overlooking Kabul, fearing the next knock at the door would be the Taliban.

    ‘It was a time of bombs and fear where the threat of revenge attacks hung over us and we wondered each time we left home if we would return,’ the former interpreter recalls.

    Long before the Taliban overthrew the Afghan government in August, cells of fighters had been carrying out targeted assassinations of locals who had helped the West during the war.

    ‘There was uncertainty and real fear. England was a dream to hang on to – it represented hope for me and my family, and for all of us who risked our lives beside British soldiers. We feared that it might never be a reality, but we needed that dream to keep going,’ he says.

    Last Christmas, Waheed Sabawoon and his family were hiding in the darkened rooms of their mud-walled house overlooking Kabul

    Last Christmas, Waheed Sabawoon and his family were hiding in the darkened rooms of their mud-walled house overlooking Kabul

    Now the 30-year-old, who worked for three years with military spies and frontline troops in Helmand Province, is sipping a latte in Bristol’s Christmas Market, with Jingle Bells in the background. His son Naveed, four, is enjoying a hot chocolate with cream and marshmallow after a ride on the reindeer merry-go-round.

    With his wife Mashita, 29, and two-year-old daughter Muska, Waheed now calls Bristol home.

    ‘The contrast is so great it is hard to believe,’ he says. ‘Our dream has come true. Our first Christmas in Britain will be something we will never forget. I know that people give gifts and thanks at Christmas for what they have, and I would like to thank the British Government.

    ‘But most of all, and with all my heart, I would like to thank the Daily Mail. You never gave up on the translators. You made this possible. It is the greatest gift you could give my family.’

    This newspaper’s award-winning Betrayal of the Brave campaign has championed the case of interpreters who served alongside British forces.

    Waheed worked for the highly sensitive Electronic Warfare Unit and Brigade Reconnaissance Forces between 2010 and 2013, but lost his job when a Kindle e-reader was found among his belongings.

    It had been a gift from an officer but when it was found, Waheed was dismissed as for security reasons no electronic devices were allowed on base. As with others highlighted by our campaign, Waheed’s case was overturned and his family were among 15,000 rescued in the summer RAF airlift from Kabul.

    His family made it on to a flight just 24 hours before a suicide bomb ripped through crowds outside the airport, killing 183.

    They spent nearly three months in hotels before being given a three-bedroom flat in Bristol, which they have ‘fallen in love with’. Waheed knows they are lucky. Only 4,000 have been found homes. More than 10,000 remain in hotels, their children often unable to go to school.

    Farid Rahmani, his wife Fatima, 32, and children Ahmad, 13, Mohammad, 12, Beseshta, ten, Sumaya, six, Tahura, four, and Hasenat, two, are in their fifth month in a Hertfordshire hotel. Christmas has given the children insights into the country where they are building their new life, says the 37-year-old former chief interpreter for the British Embassy in Kabul.

    Waheed worked for the highly sensitive Electronic Warfare Unit and Brigade Reconnaissance Forces between 2010 and 2013, but lost his job when a Kindle e-reader was found among his belongings (file photo)

    Waheed worked for the highly sensitive Electronic Warfare Unit and Brigade Reconnaissance Forces between 2010 and 2013, but lost his job when a Kindle e-reader was found among his belongings (file photo)

    Farid, who worked at the embassy for 17 years, was turned down for relocation despite being shot at in a Taliban ambush in July. He was reprieved after his story was highlighted by the Mail. Farid says his family will be ‘forever grateful’.

    ‘I know I am lucky to be alive and lucky to be in England where my family can celebrate the Christmas season. I experienced several Christmases on duty at the Embassy. But this year we are in a different land.

    ‘Everyone is excited, there is a spirit that is uplifting at this time of year, whatever your religion and beliefs.’ That can be seen in his children’s faces as they put up a Christmas tree in the west London flat of their aunt, Muzghan, 35, a British citizen. There’s confusion when handed crackers – they have never seen them before. One tries pulling both ends. Another wears her crown as a necklace.

    Jokes are handed to Farid, who asks his girls to repeat English words after him. ‘What do snowmen eat for lunch?’ Answer: ‘Iceburgers.’ There is frowning as they wait for the translation, and then squeals of laughter.

    Farid says: ‘My wife was always worried, she would beg me to change my routines because of the Taliban threat. Now we have a bright new beginning. I asked my daughter if she wanted to go back to Afghanistan and she said, “This is our home now”.’