‘I saw the children fall’: panic and despair in Kabul as time ran out | Afghanistan

FOr in the past four days, Nangyalai, a 42-year-old minivan driver from south London, has been queuing with his wife and 11-month-old child outside the Baron Hotel on the edge of Kabul Airport, trying to get close enough to the entrance gate to show his passport British guards.

There is a sign next to the gate that says ‘British passport holders only’. Inside the hotel, officials are working to grant evacuation visas to thousands of UK nationals and Afghan nationals who have worked for British organisations. Diplomatic staff say they are “treating hundreds every hour,” but there is a growing sense of desperation among the crowds that have been waiting outside since the start of the week – and tensions are rising.

Speaking on the phone from outside the airport, Nangyalai (who has not been identified) said his repeated attempts to get the attention of British officials had been unsuccessful. With reports indicating that military airlifts can Expires in 36 hoursHe began to lose hope. Others described surrendering and returning home, fearful that the crowded streets were becoming increasingly unsafe because the Taliban said they would prevent Afghans from leaving the country they now control.

People lining up near a sign
A crowd of people at the back gate of the Baron Hotel. Photography: Rock @AFG @KhybarMohammad / Twitter

The driver of the minivan witnessed several protesters being beaten with sticks and cables when they tried to approach the entrance to the hotel. “It’s a very tense situation,” he said. Several people expressed frustration that officials did not send vehicles to collect the rest of the UK’s citizens. According to British defense sources, local private security teams in Kabul charge up to $7,500 (£5,500) for safe passage to the airport, with a large portion of the fee used to pay for safe passage to the airport. Taliban On the road.

Yesterday, a group of about 40 of us stood in a circle and tried to call the State Department to ask them to come and get us. The US Embassy sends buses to pick up its citizens and take them to the airport. The British do not, Nanjialai said. We tried calling, telling them we were stuck outside, that there was a roadblock and then a gate. They say: We can’t help you.

His growing anxiety was echoed by others. One of the guards protecting the British Embassy, ​​who works for security firm GardaWorld, spent most of Tuesdays and Wednesdays trying to get to the hotel gate where he hoped to show an email confirming he and his family had been allowed the emergency move to Britain.

He saw women and children being crushed in the crowd on Tuesday, when the gate was briefly opened and people rushed forward. I saw the children fall to the ground. I think a woman and a child died. I can not describe such a situation. “People were bringing their bodies outside,” he said, then suddenly overwhelmed with grief and unable to speak.

Others in line were injured during a small stampede. One person described trying to protect the bodies of the dead from seeing his children.

Although a Firm commitment from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs All 125 GardaWorld British Embassy guards will be assisted, only about five of whom had received emails by Wednesday telling them to collect visas from the hotel.

The guard who had already obtained this official permit was not sure if he would make another attempt to get to the hotel on Thursday. There are several Taliban checkpoints on the way to the airport. These people are not humans, they are animals. If we try to go, they will kill us. He hoped that GardaWorld or British officials would organize a bus before the evacuation ended.

A Taliban fighter with a Kalashnikov shouts at the driver of the car
Fear of Taliban checkpoints prevents many Afghans from traveling to the hotel, even if they have been told they can obtain a British visa there. Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/Rex/Shutterstock

A government minister in the recently ousted Afghan regime, a former researcher in the State Department’s Chevening program, said he felt it was now too risky to try to get to the airport independently, despite confirming he was eligible for the transfer. He was also appalled that British officials were not assisting with the transport.

“We thought we’d try again, early this morning,” he said on Wednesday. “Four hours later, I was able to see someone from the British Army, and he told me to go to another gate. I couldn’t do that. It would have taken another day to stand in line there, so we went home.” His children were ready, and each had a backpack ready to leave, but he wasn’t sure if he would try again. There are four Taliban checkpoints that you have to cross to get there. Every time I put my life in danger.”

A former soldier helping a family obtain asylum papers said that they also came within 100 meters of the Baron Hotel but were unable to enter the compound. “This family is well known at the highest diplomatic level, but there is a separation between London and the land in the Baron,” he said.

Several British NATO staff spoke of their efforts to help former Afghan colleagues. “They have their papers and are being advised to stay where they are and will be picked up – but no one is coming in, no one is answering calls or emails. Another group was told to go to the secret location of a pickup truck and seven hours later they were still waiting.” Another NATO employee said his former colleague was beaten with rifle butts by the Taliban while trying to enter the airport.

The crowds at the hotel gates are only a fraction of those trying to escape. About 200 workers who were guarding World Bank projects for British security firm G4S until August 17 sent a desperate plea on Wednesday to the British government asking it to intervene and help them escape from Kabul.

The Foreign Office said there was no priority for one group over another in eligibility criteria for evacuation flights, adding that staff were working tirelessly to organize the evacuation of British nationals, Afghan staff and vulnerable individuals, and that more than 10,200 people had been evacuated. Help to leave Afghanistan Since August 13.

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