A London woman is terrified for the safety of her family who are living under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Six months on from the sudden takeover, a snapshot of the current situation there can be found in fact that the Taliban gunmen this week raided the homes of women’s rights activists in Kabul, beating and arresting female campaigners.
It follows women’s protests about being forced out of work and made to wear the hijab.
The Taliban have increasingly targeted Afghanistan’s rights groups, and local and international journalists covering demonstrations have often been detained and sometimes beaten.
But there’s a more pressing problem. The fear of starvation for eight million Afghans in the brutal winter.
READ MORE: ‘I was West London’s first Asian police officer and was spat at and set up’
When MyLondon visited the women’s group at the Afghan and Central Asian Association (ACAA) in West London this week, it was painfully clear that the fear of terror, brutality, abuse and starvation for those under Taliban rule is still raging.
We spoke to Shafiqua Haddi, 41, who says she’s terrified every single day for her two brothers and sister who are now in hiding because if her brother’s former job as an Afghan government minister.
“When the Taliban took over, they came and searched for him,” she says. “They’ve had to leave their jobs and now they are moving around from place to place.
“My sister is a single mum with three children and because women can’t now go to work she can’t support them. Her children wanted to go to college and university but now they are stuck at home.”
“If they go outside the Taliban will beat them,” she adds. “Women are basically in prison now. I’m very very worried about them.
“My sister was trying to get out of the country but nothing has happened. Their lives are in danger.”
Shafiqua herself came to the UK 12 years ago to join her husband at a time when there was a fledgling democracy in Afghanistan.
For her it was a straightforward flight but now she tells me, if people want to get out their only route is to try to make it to the Pakistani border – an extremely dangerous option.
Do you want to stay up to date with the latest news, views, features and opinion from across the city?
MyLondon’s brilliant newsletter The 12 is absolutely jam packed with all the latest to keep you keep you entertained, informed and uplifted.
You’ll get 12 stories straight to your inbox at around 12pm. It’s the perfect lunchtime read.
And what’s more – it’s FREE!
The MyLondon team tells London stories for Londoners. Our journalists cover all the news you need – from City Hall to your local streets, so you’ll never miss a moment.
Don’t skip a beat and sign up to The 12 newsletter here.
Even for her settling in the UK in the best of times was tough.
“I couldn’t communicate, I couldn’t find friends, I didn’t have a family here,” she says.
“My biggest problem was loneliness.”
But thankfully when she had her two children and they began to go to nurseries and schools in West London she met other parents.
She went to college to improve her English and now she’s studying to be a graphic designer.
But it’s easy to forget that back home she had studied civil engineering and was working in architecture.
Most Afghan refugees are not penniless or jobless, they are well educated middle class people whose families have had good jobs.
Linda who organises the ACCA group where recent refugee women sometimes arrive tells me: “Last week a woman came here who had gone to the airport in Kabul and her husband had pushed her onto the plane. Now she is here completely on her own. She is diabetic so wouldn’t have survived in Afghanistan under the Taliban.
“She was literally wandering the streets before she found us here. We were all crying when we heard her story.”
I speak to former MP Keith Best who is here to meet the women. He has travelled extensively in Afghanistan and has worked to help groups of refugees for years.
“Before the Taliban women were getting an education and were making a huge contribution to society,” he says.
“They were 20 per cent of the workforce and brought in a million US dollars a year.
“So with women confined to their homes, the economy is really suffering.
“A lot of people were simply unable to get out, but for those who do they are often middle class people with nice houses and they come here where they are kept in temporary accommodation.
“They’ve got the language barrier and all the trauma on being uprooted and they’ve got to try to find education for their children.
“Many of them just want to know when they will be able to return.”
Keith tells me though that the immediate problem is starvation. With winter and the west being limited in the supplies it can send in, there’s a real risk of many people dying.
He believes the western powers need to send in aid to help, even despite the risks this may pose.
But he says what’s needed is a new, stronger form of regional government that will better serve the many ethnic groups in Afghanistan.
It’s something we’re a million miles away from at the moment.
MP Vicky Ford told the Commons recently that Afghanistan is facing the world’s “most severe food security crisis”.
Responding to an urgent question by Labour MP Clive Lewis (Norwich South), Ms Ford said: “It’s affecting well over half the population, with 23 million people facing acute food insecurity.
“This is now the world’s most severe food security crisis.
“The UN has this week requested nearly 4.5 billion dollars for 2022, the largest humanitarian appeal on record reflecting the magnitude of the humanitarian challenge ahead.”
But Mr Lewis said the UK’s response was “woeful”, asking how the Government would “square the circle of dealing with the Taliban and playing its part in supporting Afghanistan and humanitarian aid”.
If you are an Afghan needing support you can call ACCA on 020 8572 0300 or click here
Do you have a story about immigrating to the UK? Email [email protected]