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Life on hold

Life on hold

0:00

Faiz guarded the British embassy in Kabul. He and his family were evacuated when Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, but more than a year later they are still living in a hotel.

“15 August 2021, I finish my job. On last day Taliban coming to Kabul and all of government is finished. Last people in the embassy, me and my friend, another guard.”

This is Faiz Seddeqi, a 30 year old security guard who used to work at the British Embassy in the Afghan capital. 

Last summer, as Taliban forces seized control, he was the final staff member to lock up – and run for his life.

“There are scenes of panic and pandemonium at Kabul airport today as desperate people pour onto the runway trying to flee the country in what can only be described as a chaotic exodus…”

CNBC

Unlike other western countries, Britain initially told local employees like Faiz that they weren’t eligible for evacuation or protection because they had been hired through a private outsourcing company.

By the time that decision was reversed, and he was given permission to get on a plane, the roads around the airport were blocked – and Faiz, his wife, their newborn son, and his elderly parents were forced to battle their way through the confusion.

With the help of a translator, he told his story to our reporter Jack Shenker.

“There were so many people there, you know, huge crowds. It was very, very difficult to be able to get to the gates. And in the meanwhile, my little son at the time was about 45 days old. So you know, carrying a child that small, with the family in that big crowd, is of course difficult. But then they threw tear gas in the crowds to disperse them.”

Faiz made it safely to the UK, but his troubles were far from over. After being shuttled around various forms of short-term accommodation, he and his young family wound up in a small hotel room on the outskirts of Watford, waiting for permanent housing to be found.

Despite the lack of space, they quickly made the best of things. They pushed the two single beds together so they could squeeze in a cot for their son, and prepared traditional Afghan tea in paper cups.

Days turned into weeks, weeks into months. Faiz’s wife fell pregnant once again. 

She’s due to give birth to their second child in just a few weeks’ time and they’re still in that hotel room, which is already too crowded.

“My room you see is very, very small… It’s very dangerous for my family. Because one son, two sons, he crying, another son wake up. Another son crying, he wake up. And I think all of night and day me and wife have no sleep!”

***

To make matters worse, Faiz is sick with fear. Because of his work at the British embassy, relatives still in Afghanistan have been targeted by the Taliban. 

He watches video clips of the raids and arrests on his phone obsessively…

[Taliban raid audio]

Earlier this year, his parents managed to escape across the land border to Pakistan. 

Faiz applied for UK paperwork that would allow them to travel safely to Britain. That was submitted over seven months ago, and he’s yet to receive a reply.

[Rustling sounds]

Jack Shenker: “I’m sorry, Faiz. I know this is very, very hard to talk about.”

Translator: “I keep trying to take it and tolerate it, but it’s too difficult.”

The Home Office is aware of how urgent Faiz’s situation is. He regularly meets with an official and has shown them a doctor’s note warning that his current circumstances are damaging his mental health. 

Tortoise has asked several government departments, including the Home Office, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence about Faiz’s situation. They told us they don’t comment on individual cases.

***

Right now, more than nine and a half thousand Afghan refugees are stuck in hotel rooms in the UK, waiting to be rehoused. And many thousands more who are eligible for relocation to Britain – including dozens of Faiz’s former embassy colleagues – remain trapped in Afghanistan, often in hiding.

All Faiz wants is a secure and appropriate home in or around London, where his aunt already lives, and the opportunity to begin building a real future here. 

Jack Shenker: “Does the home office give you any sense how long this will last?”

Faiz Seddeqi: “No, no, no.”

Despite his stress, Faiz has enrolled on a course to learn English as a second language. He wants to go to college, and dreams of eventually finding a job so he can feel part of British society, and support his family financially. 

But it’s hard when every day is crowded with so many uncertainties. Ultimately, he says, the nationality printed on your passport shouldn’t matter. 

“He’s British, he’s Afghan, it’s not important. He’s a good man.He can work for the people of the world. That’s a very big, big, big hope for me..”

This episode was written and reported by Jack Shenker. It was mixed by Patricia Clarke.