A British man’s young family has been refused evacuation from Afghanistan after years of being kept apart from him by UK immigration policy.
Ismail, 30, says his wife’s low level of English barred her and their children from joining him in Britain after they married six years ago.
He claims they were turned away by British officials last week after a ‘false promise’ of rescue led them on a gruelling four-day ordeal in Kabul, where his five-year-old daughter and eight-month-old son were traumatised by the sight of dead bodies.
After a four-hour drive from their rural village, they queued for three days and nights in the searing heat outside the airport and another 10 hours in an Army checkpoint – only to be told they weren’t eligible because Ismail wasn’t with them.
With the end of formal evacuation efforts, the father-of-two fears his family have missed a ‘golden chance’ to be reunited after seven years of heartache.
Breaking down in tears, he told Metro.co.uk: ‘I don’t know what to say. It’s very disappointing because I’ve been here for 11 years. They gave me a false promise.
Ismail, a taxi driver from north-west London, moved to the UK aged 17 in 2009 because of the conflict with the Taliban.
‘We got married in 2014 but my wife could not join me because her English was not good enough,’ he added.
Immigration rules introduced in 2010 by then-Home Secretary Theresa May require people to demonstrate a sufficient level of English to qualify for a spouse visa.
Solicitors told Ismail not to bother applying unless Mina passed an approved language test – leaving the family stumped as, like women in many parts of rural Afghanistan, she has no access to education.
She has tried to improve her English but has to glean what few words she can from men in her community, who also have little education, Ismail added.
He continued: ‘When the Taliban took over Afghanistan I was very worried for my family, so I applied for the resettlement scheme as soon as I could.
‘I received a call from the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office telling me to get my family to Baron Hotel [the site of a British checkpoint by Kabul’s airport] as quickly as possible with any paperwork she had.
‘I was so happy when they called me, thinking everything will be alright.
Mina and her kids jumped in a car with her brother and sped to the capital, where they joined hundreds of others forced to queue on foot in temperatures averaging 35C.
There they spent three nights, sleeping on the pavement with only the clothes on their backs and scraps of food and water fetched by her brother and sympathetic locals trying to supply the crowds.
Ismail said: ‘After another 10 hours in Baron Hotel but the British advisor told them they are not eligible to enter the UK because I was not with them.
‘She gave them a copy of my passport, our marriage certificate and a wedding picture but they told her “we cannot accept these documents unless you have a husband with you”.
‘When she told me, we were both crying on the phone. I was so shocked and disappointed. I could not sleep. It was a golden chance.’
Hours later, two suicide bombings by ISIS-K, a local affiliate of Islamic State, would claim the lives of over 180 people in the vicinity, most of them other Afghans queueing for evacuation.
‘I told them to try again the next day. But my daughter told her mum she didn’t want to go to the airport again because they saw dead bodies with their own eyes after the blast.
‘My kids were so terrified by the sound of the bomb, they couldn’t sleep that night.’
Ismail, a taxi driver who lives in north-west London, says his efforts to follow up his case with the government have been in vain.
‘One night I spent hours on hold while working before the line automatically hung up,’ he added. ‘Eventually I got through to them on Friday but they said they have no information.’
As a British citizen since 2015, he is entitled to phone a special service for resettling the families of UK nationals – who, according to Home Office guidance, were automatically eligible for evacuation – but said he received the ‘same’ lack of help as through the general helpline for Afghan nationals.
‘I am so disappointed in [the government],’ he added. ‘And if they didn’t have the English test policy, my family would be here already.’
The family’s identities have been withheld to protect them from reprisals by the Taliban, whose forces occupied Mina’s home province two months ago.
Ismail’s wife and kids are now staying in a rental house in Kabul while Ismail nervously waits for an update – and believe they are safe there unless fighting breaks out again.
But he says their friends and extended family are ‘miserable’ at the prospect of life under the Taliban, whom they do not trust to keep the peace despite promises of an amnesty for ‘former enemies’.
Other families of British citizens stranded in Afghanistan have already been terrorised by Taliban fighters, with one Londoner in hiding after gunmen shot their way into his family home and kidnapped his sister.
Visa requirements are now expected to be waived for any families of British nationals resettled from Afghanistan in the future, Metro.co.uk revealed on Wednesday.
The government says it is working on a new scheme to resettle 20,000 Afghans, prioritised by vulnerability, but no start date has been announced and the plans are thin on detail.
The Foreign Office declined to explain why Ismail’s family were turned away, saying it does not routinely comment on individual cases.
A spokesperson for the department said: ‘The UK and international partners are all committed to ensuring that our citizens, nationals and residents, employees, Afghans who have worked with us and those who are at risk can continue to travel freely to destinations outside Afghanistan. We have been clear that the Taliban must allow safe passage for those who want to leave.’
A Home Office spokesperson added: ‘We have evacuated over 16,000 people from Afghanistan.
‘However, we know that more needs to be done to support those who are at risk, which is why we are urgently working to establish our new, bespoke scheme to provide protection for Afghan citizens identified most at risk, and are insisting that safe passage continues for those who want to leave.’
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