Try to get out again and we’ll make you pay: Afghan translators reveal the nightmare of those left behind as some people approved for evacuation fail to make it through Taliban checkpoints… with one held at gunpoint and another beaten and turned back
Exhausted, frustrated and crushed by the mass of people desperate to reach Kabul airport, ex-military translators and their families told of their failed bids to escape yesterday.
Some approved for evacuation failed to make it through Taliban checkpoints – one held at gunpoint and photographed, another beaten and turned back.
Others complained of spending more than 60 hours in the crush of people where at least seven died and dozens were carried away unconscious.
Dozens of those who risked their lives as interpreters beside UK troops were said to have been notified for flights over the weekend but some were too scared to pass Taliban checkpoints. Pictured, former translator Salim and his wife Brekhna
Those that did make it spoke of the kindness of paratroopers manning the gates, which at times had to be closed. British soldiers gave food, water and even clothes to those in need. Women tried passing their children above their heads to soldiers to escape the crush.
The Taliban had fired in the air and used batons to force crowds to form orderly queues outside the airport so for the first time in a week long lines of people snaked back towards the city.
Dozens of those who risked their lives as interpreters beside UK troops were said to have been notified for flights over the weekend but some were too scared to pass Taliban checkpoints.
One 48-year-old, known by Helmand soldiers as MS, fell asleep in a taxi with his family after waiting for hours at the airport. He woke to a Taliban fighter demanding to see his papers.
When they saw he had a British visa in his passport, they became angry branding him ‘a bloody interpreter…spy of the infidel’.
‘They put the muzzle of the gun to my chest and photographed me three times, once in front and once from each side and warned it was being sent to all airport checkpoints and if ever I tried to go to there again I would be separated from my family and taken away,’ MS said from his Kabul hideout.
‘I was sitting in the front next to the driver, my seven-year-old daughter was crying and asking the man with the gun “please do not fire on my daddy, please don’t shoot”,’ MS said.
‘My wife was crying too and we were all frightened, people are being killed for nothing. They took my passport and took the picture (out) and my wife pleaded for it to be given back, they did as she asked with the warning never to try to approach the airport again.
‘I don’t know what to do, we need to escape but it is very dangerous for me now.’ A member of the Hazara ethnic minority, he said he told British officials about the incident but despite being summoned again yesterday he was too scared to risk the Taliban checkpoints.
‘We are so afraid, every time there is a knock on the door we wonder if it is the Taliban, my daughter hugs on to me and says not to answer. Everyone thinks they are coming for me. It is too big a risk to go to the airport.’
Wazir, 30, a father of five, was another ex-interpreter to feel the anger of the Taliban.
Some approved for evacuation failed to make it through Taliban checkpoints – one held at gunpoint and photographed, another beaten and turned back
‘We had waited near the airport to be called forward for a flight and were told to move,’ Wazir, who spent four years on the frontline, said. ‘I tried to explain we had nowhere to go and would fly soon but they began to strike me with a stick, they hit other people too.’
Despite the beating, he said he was determined to try again to reach the rendezvous point. ‘We must escape for a new life,’ he said, ‘I will try again even if they beat me.’
Ahmad, 31, an ex-interpreter who has twice been turned back at the airport, called on Britain to organise ‘pop-up’ rendezvous points in Kabul that only those chosen for specific flights would be told of.
The US has a similar system using helicopters but there are grave security concerns because they are highly vulnerable. ‘We know the clock is ticking to when the airport will close,’ Ahmad said. ‘I am a clear target and collection centres would save so much anguish.’
Joy and despair of wives trying to escape
By David Williams
For Brekhna, there was joy and relief yesterday, but for Rohina there was just fear and despair. Both had endured the nightmare of the lottery that is the ‘road to hell’ leading to Kabul’s besieged airport.
The 21-year-old Afghan women are married to former interpreters for the UK military. After finally getting their visas to join their husbands in Britain last week, they spent three days and nights in the crush of thousands desperately trying to force their way to the front and a chance of escape.
The women endured hours of suffering in the frenzy – sometimes carried along, their feet not touching the ground during surges forward by the crowds – of men’s hands deliberately touching, molesting, of seeing women die in the heat and crush, of children being trampled, of dehydration and exhaustion, the blinding pain of tear gas.
Rohina was forced to return home, near to collapse. She now faces having to try again – enduring the taunts of Taliban fighters sneering at why she would want to leave to join a man who had worked for the ‘infidel’. Brekhna had been lucky, and had just enough life left in her phone battery to reach her husband, Salim, in the UK.
She told him : ‘I have made it to the airport, I am with the British. I will see you soon, God willing.’ All her belongings had been left behind in the struggle but she had made it through the crush and the airport gates and there is hope she could arrive in Birmingham today.
Perhaps the key to her success was a large sign written with the help of Salim and her brother with her name and visa number in English on it. It was seen by a British soldier, who took her forward. ‘She ran for her life,’ said Salim, 31, who spent five years in Helmand with UK forces.
‘She lost everything, but she made it. For three days, people had been pushing her, she had been crying, not knowing if she would ever make it. It was terrible, a woman surrounded by men, exhausted, living in the dirt with no sleep.’
Brekhna’s journey is in contrast to the agony and despair felt by Rohina and her husband Mohammad after she had spent so much time near the airport gate but failed to make it through.
‘I took the decision to tell her to return home as she could have died in the crush – people did – there was so much pushing, touching of women,’ Mohammad said.
‘At one point she was unconscious, it was so hot and so many people. She had all the right paperwork but she could not make it forward. I am worried for her. How can I ask her to try that again? She could die.’