Malalai’s father Yusuf was already very wary life in Afghanistan was getting increasingly risky.
Pre-empting disaster, he used the British citizenship he had earned as an asylum seeker back in 2001 during the Taliban’s previous rule of terror to flee Kabul.
Hoping his wife Sherbano and his then nine-year-old daughter Malalai would join him soon, he caught what turned out to be one of the last commercial flights out of Afghanistan on 14 August 2021 – a day before the country fell.
When Taliban fighters claimed victory the next day, he endured a desperate wait in a quarantine hotel in London to see if the UK government’s Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme could get his family out alive.
A new three-part Sky News podcast, Out of Afghanistan, follows the stories of Yusuf, Sherbano, Malalai, and other Afghan refugees, from the evacuation to now – one year on.
Their names have been changed to protect their safety.
Malalai’s mother Sherbano was preparing Sunday lunch when the Taliban took over.
As a British citizen herself she immediately rang the Home Office but had to wait two agonising days with gunfire rife outside until she got a call.
“They called me and said you can go to the airport, but it was late at night and after 10pm we can’t go out and the situation was totally not safe,” she said.
“They told me you can’t take any luggage with you, just one small hand luggage.”
Malalai adds: “I have so much school things – my cousin’s a student, so I have to give her everything. I miss my home now, my grandma was crying, we hugged.”
Four died while we were at the airport
Sherbano took Malalai and her cousin Maiwand to Kabul Airport, where the world watched harrowing scenes of people clutching on to the outside of planes in a bid to escape.
They navigated their way to the Baron Hotel where the British military had set up processing operations.
There they spent three days, without food or shelter from the scorching sun.
And with Islamic State operating in the city, fears of an imminent suicide attack at the airport were constant.
Just days after they were there a blast in the sewage canal between Baron Hotel and the Abbey Gate entrance of the airport killed 170 Afghans and 13 US Marines just a few hundred feet away.
“People was crushing,” Sherbano recalls. “When we were there four people died.”
Eventually after two days and three nights the three of them boarded a military plane to Dubai, where they got on another to London.
Once reunited with Yusuf, they were one of many families to be housed in one of two ‘bridging hotels’ in Bristol.
According to official figures, thousands of Afghans are still waiting in these hotels a year after the evacuation.
‘It’s not a home’
Despite having a roof over their heads and food to eat, life in limbo proves frustrating.
Yusuf says: “The main thing for me in home is cooking, so I’d be cooking lots of stuff at home. In here you don’t do anything, you get lazy all day, especially if you don’t work.”
Sherbano adds: “It’s not a home.”
Malalai, meanwhile, starts school and struggles.
“I’m so new in here. Culture, everything is so different,” she says.
“I go to school but I don’t have any friends because I can’t speak so much English.
“In Afghanistan I had so many friends. I miss it so much. I hate break time… in Afghanistan we have no break time.”
Donna Curran, a senior support worker supporting refugees in Bristol, says these cultural differences are important to note when trying to find permanent homes for families.
“There’s a lot of feedback that they never use sofas, they prefer cushions on the floor,” she says.
“Flats rather than houses – gardens are not something they desire.”
Relatives still trapped under Taliban rule
Out of Afghanistan speaks to another family who are resettled in Peterhead – north of Aberdeen.
One of them, Ali, says: “It’s really hard to chat to local people here, their accent is really different.”
He came to the UK via the government’s Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme, having worked as an interpreter for the British military.
Another refugee, Afzal, is still worried about several family members still stuck in the country.
He says: “I’m afraid one of my brothers, maybe during one month I no speak yet.
“Just two or three times I receive his sound on [my phone]. The internet is not good quality in Afghanistan
“We hope some change in Afghanistan from the Taliban – that they stop their way to hurt people.”
All three episodes of Out of Afghanistan, presented by Sky News chief correspondent Stuart Ramsay, are out on 8 August
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