Nottingham family trapped in Afghanistan tell of 'terror'

Trapped Nottingham family –  including children aged five and nine – reveal they are ‘sleeping on the floor’ in a Kabul camp with no washing facilities, terrified by constant Taliban gunfire, as they plead with UK government to save them

  • Nargas Ziahe, 24, and relatives flew to Afghanistan six weeks ago for a funeral
  • Her family were ‘taken by surprise’ by Taliban’s quick surge through the country 
  • Friends back home registered her for repatriation flight and told her to head for hotel next to Hamid Karzai International Airport
  • But Taliban guards refused to allow her entry and she is stuck in nearby camp
  • Ms Ziahe said her siblings Omar, five, and Asma, nine, who are with her, were crying and ‘terrified’ of ‘constant gunfire’

A family from Nottingham who are trapped in Afghanistan have spoken of their ‘terror’ amid the Taliban takeover and have pleaded for the UK’s government’s help to get them home.

Nargas Ziahe, 24, flew out to Afghanistan more than six weeks ago following the death of an uncle, completely unaware of what was to come.

The admin worker says she was ‘taken by surprise’ as Taliban forces swept across the country, with forces entering and taking control of capital Kabul on Sunday.

Thousands of British citizens have fled the country, most on military flights out of Hamid Karzai International Airport which currently remains out of Taliban hands.

However, Ms Ziahe is trapped just outside the main airport’s entrance in a camp without beds or proper sanitation, unable to get past Taliban blockades that are limiting people from reaching flights.

‘It is so scary,’ said Ms Ziahe. ‘There was so much shooting which was scaring my five-year-old brother. They are just shooting in the air.’ 

Nargas Ziahe, an admin worker from Nottingham, and her young siblings are trapped in Afghanistan after they were ‘taken by surprise’ by the speed of the country’s fall to the Taliban after they headed there six weeks ago for a funeral

‘It is so scary,’ said Ms Ziahe. ‘There was so much shooting which was scaring my five-year-old brother. They are just shooting in the air’

‘We have spoken to the Foreign Office and our names are registered there. But there are no troops. I just want to be taken somewhere safe.

‘No one can do anything because all the shops are closed, it was just a big surprise for everyone.

‘I am near the airport. We are sleeping on the floor. There is nowhere to wash, just little shops to get some water.’

Taliban fighters have been seen shooting over the heads of crowds, and reports of women by whipped at random.

Such is the desperation among those trying to flee that women have resorted to passing babies over barbed wire to soldiers and pleaded to fly them to safety. 

Thousands of British citizens have fled the country, most on military flights out of Hamid Karzai International Airport which currently remains out of Taliban hands. Pictured: Afghan people gather along a road outside an airport

Satellite images have revealed the extent of the crisis at Kabul airport, with cars crammed up against the southern civilian entrance and northern military entrance that can be seen from satellites

Ms Ziahe also sent voice-messages from nine-year-old Asma who said she is so scared of the gunfire that it has left her in tears and she ‘doesn’t know what to do’. 

Ms Ziahe had been in the town of Charikar, Parwan province, to the north of Kabul visiting relatives with her brother Omar, five, and her sister Asma who is just nine years old.

A number of other family members are with her, including some of her uncles, who Ms Ziahe must travel with due to the Taliban’s restrictions which prohibit women going outside alone. She said all woman have been made to cover themselves.

Concern was raised back in Nottingham at Mellers Primary School in Radford which Ms Ziahe’s younger siblings usually attend.

Having heard they had planned to travel to Afghanistan, headteacher Amanda Dawson to contact the family to make sure they were safe, but she ended up contacting the Foreign Office after learning of the situation.

‘We realised yesterday that one of our school community families had been intending to travel to Afghanistan over the summer, so I contacted Mr Ziahe [Ms Ziahe’s father] to check that everyone was safely home,’ she said.

‘Unfortunately, Mr Ziahe told me that his wife, eldest daughter, younger son and daughter were all stuck in Kabul and didn’t know how to get home.

A baby is handed over to the American army over the perimeter wall of the airport for it to be evacuated, in Kabul

‘I reassured Mr Ziahe that I would help, and trawled the internet to find out who I needed to contact to alert the foreign office to the family’s plight.

‘I managed to find the right contact at the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office, and was able to get the family, who are all British nationals, registered for repatriation flights.’

Ms Ziahe was instructed to visit the Baron Hotel in Kabul as all embassies had been evacuated. At the hotel, which is located next to the Hamid Karzai International Airport, her paperwork would be processed for repatriation.

Upon arrival, however, they met a Taliban blockade which would not let them pass.

They have now been in a camp just outside the airport which they say has no beds and no washing facilities.

‘It would be really nice if there were British or American troops here to get in touch with, because there are so many people. I am not saying they should come and fight, but we need soldiers to be here so we can see them and speak to them.’

Lilian Greenwood, the MP for Nottingham South, confirmed she had been in ‘constant’ contact with the Government over Ms Ziahe’s situation.

‘We have been liaising closely with Amanda at the school, they have shared video footage of the Taliban blocking their route to the hotel,’ she said.

‘I will do everything I possibly can to get them home. I cannot even imagine the terror for the family but also the anxiety and stress.’

The Foreign Office has been contacted for comment.

The UK evacuated 963 people on flights from Kabul, the country’s only working airport, yesterday and is planning for 1,000 more to leave the country today.

Britain has promised to evacuate some 7,000 UK citizens and Afghan staff from the country, in addition to 5,000 refugees, but a foreign minister admitted they would not be able to evacuate everyone from Afghanistan.

Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey said today that ‘that sad truth is, we don’t have it in our gift to stay there until absolutely everyone is out’. 

‘The air bridge (from Kabul) could last two more days, five more days, ten more days,’ he added, insisting that the armed forces are ‘working hard to maximise capacity’ on every flight. 

However, one image laid bare the extent of the empty promises – showing what is thought to be a Norwegian mercy flight taking off from Kabul carrying the wife of a British ex-Marine who is still stranded in Afghanistan, but almost nobody else.

Posting the image on Twitter last night, Paul ‘Pen’ Farthing wrote: ‘Kaisa is on her way home! BUT this aircraft is empty… scandalous as thousands wait outside Kabul airport being crushed as they cannot get in. Sadly people will be left behind when this mission is over as we CANNOT get it right.’

The UK government is thought to be drawing up contingency plans for a hasty 24-hour exit from the country, a medium-term withdrawal over a period of several days, and a more-orderly withdrawal over a longer period.

Whitehall sources told The Times that the longer-term option is preferred as being safer for British troops, but were forced to admit ‘we are in the American’s hands’ – with little indication coming from Washington as to how long they are willing to hold out.

British special forces are now being sent outside the walls of the airport compound in order to find passport and visa holders and get them past Taliban checkpoints so they can be put on planes home.

It is hoped that their searches outside of the airport’s walls could lead to the rescue of Ms Ziahe and her family members.

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