A year ago, Basheer was stuck in Kabul with his wife and newborn son and living in fear of his life. Then, days before the Taliban took control of the country, the family were evacuated and now call Britain their home.
Basheer, a former interpreter who served alongside British troops in Helmand province at the age of 17, has since had a second child and is living in a two-bedroom flat in Camberley, Surrey. He is due to start a course in international security at Staffordshire University in Stoke-on-Trent next month after being awarded a scholarship.
His wife, Majabin, 26, is taking English classes twice a week and, when she is not looking after their two young children, she is studying.
“We are lucky and we are so grateful to Britain for providing us with safety and sanctuary. It means a lot and we will never forget it,” Basheer, 29, said. He said that his two children would grow up knowing where they came from and what Britain did for them.
He applied for sanctuary in the UK in October 2020 and it took until July last year for his application to be processed, after which the family flew to Britain via Dubai. A few weeks later, as western forces withdrew, the Taliban took over the Afghan capital. When he was younger his family could not afford to send him to university so, after finishing school, he went to work with the British Army. He was one of its youngest interpreters.
The family have quickly settled into life in Britain, with Basheer joining veterans to raise money selling poppies for Remembrance Day in November.
He has tried to get a job and has had interviews but has not yet been successful. “I am struggling to find something full-time. I want to contribute to the economy and society and I don’t want to stay on benefits,” he said.
He said many former interpreters, including himself, would like a job with the Ministry of Defence, either as interpreters or cultural advisers, but under stringent government rules they are not allowed.
“I would love a job with the British military. We can play a positive role but don’t know where we go to ask,” he said.
On a journey into London he offered his train seat to an elderly woman who became his friend and now calls him her “second son”.
As for his wife, he said that in one year she has learnt enough English to be able to have conversations in shops, banks and at the GP surgery.
“At home we talk in English so we can practise. In one year she can handle everything outside. She is able to do all these things without me. When the children are asleep she takes her books and tries to practise,” he said, adding that her dream is to go to college.
Their son, Manzoor, is nearly two and they have a six-month-old daughter, Sarah. “As a dad of two I will try my best to give my children a proper education and they will serve this country and society when it is the right time,” he said. Basheer fears for relatives in Afghanistan and said that he was one of the lucky ones. Although thousands have been accepted into the UK, other interpreters and those who worked alongside British troops in other roles are still stranded.
There are huge backlogs with the MoD’s Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap) scheme, by which former employees can come to the UK, with many emails pleading for help going unanswered for months.
Ed Aitken, a former captain and co-founder of the Sulha Alliance, which campaigns for interpreters to be given sanctuary in Britain, said they were still supporting hundreds of former interpreters and locally employed civilians who were requesting to come to Britain.
“Some of [them] have been told they are eligible but have not been given any instruction on their pending evacuation, while the majority are still awaiting a decision. All too often applicants do not hear anything from the Arap team for weeks or months,” he said.
He believes too many are rejected because of a “too-rigid approach to eligibility rather than the case-by-case assessment on the risk they face, as promised by former defence secretaries”.
He added: “All those who had any connection to British forces . . . face a real and imminent threat to their lives. We are regularly sent images of people who have been badly attacked by the Taliban, often just for being the brother or father of a former interpreter, pleading for help on how to access the Arap system. Yet the burden of evidence and eligibility is still too high and these people continue to spend their lives in fear, hiding in basements because of the work they or their families did for us.”
Relatives of those who made it to the UK are also in danger. Recently the daughter of an Afghan who worked for British troops and was rescued last year was attacked in Helmand.
The woman’s brother said that the Taliban attacked her with stones and the butt of their rifles after she denied knowing the whereabouts of their father. Photographs seen by The Times show the horrific extent of her injuries. The family have appealed to the MoD for help but have had no reply.
Others who did not serve with western troops, including many women, have little hope of being rescued and yet face similar dangers now the Taliban are in charge.
Fahima, who ran a beauty salon in Kabul for 16 years after escaping from her Taliban husband, has been in hiding since the fall of the capital last August. Her salon was wrecked and she dare not go outside because she fears that her husband, who repeatedly raped and beat her, will find her and kill her.
She is desperate to get to the UK but has heard nothing from the British government after applying for the Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme. “Afghanistan is a country where women are only captives. Education is closed for our girls. Work is closed for our women. We are a body without a soul and we do not need a heart,” she said in despair.