They call themselves the ‘lucky ones’: four among hundreds of former British military interpreters whisked to safety in Britain as the Taliban returned. Scores more are left behind.
They risked their lives for Britain, and were initially denied sanctuary in the UK.
But the Daily Mail’s award-winning Betrayal of the Brave campaign took up cudgels. One by one, they were eventually told they could come to Britain.
Yesterday all four families were safe in quarantine hotels in London and Manchester. They could only watch the horrors back home unfold.
All are thankful to the Government, singling out Defence Secretary Ben Wallace for ‘making a difference’, and praising the support of ‘our brothers… the magnificent British soldiers who helped us at the airport’.
They are especially grateful to the Mail’s campaign for ‘being our voice, never forgetting us, fighting for translators and sharing our suffering’.
From their hotels, they told their stories. Bahawar Mayar, 60, and his family – wife Sheerina and children Husna, Samina, Adeena, Ghulam and Mustafa – made it past Taliban checkpoints to get on an RAF plane, but he is haunted by the thoughts of colleagues left behind.
‘I know I am lucky, I have escaped with my family,’ he said. ‘There are many still in Afghanistan who have not been so lucky. I pray for them.’
Escape from airport just hours before blast horror
Only 24 hours before a suicide bomb ripped through the crowds clamouring to make it into Kabul’s besieged airport last week, Waheed Sabawoon, his wife and two children were standing near the same spot.
Waheed, 29, said: ‘It is terrifying to think that could have been us trapped there. We had been in the same crush of people, the open sewage channel, and we had the fear of not knowing if we would ever make it through.
‘Instead, we watched the scenes on television from our hotel rooms, hardly able to believe it. We were very lucky to have escaped.
Only 24 hours before a suicide bomb ripped through the crowds clamouring to make it into Kabul’s besieged airport last week, Waheed Sabawoon, his wife and two children were standing near the same spot
‘It is such an emotional experience to feel safe for the first time in year, not to worry if the knock on the door is going to be the Taliban. This is the gift that Britain has given us and we will always be thankful because we did not believe it would happen.’
For years Waheed, who worked for the sensitive Electronic Warfare Unit and Brigade Reconnaissance Forces in Helmand province between 2010 and 2013, thought he would be among those left behind after a Kindle e-reader was found among his belongings in camp.
For years Waheed thought he would be among those left behind after a Kindle e-reader was found among his belongings in camp
He said it was given to him by an officer, but it was a rule that no electronic devices could be taken on to base areas without permission.
Waheed was dismissed, preventing him from being relocated to Britain. This ban was only overturned when the UK’s policy became more generous, allowing those terminated for minor offences to qualify.
In his hotel room with wife Mashita, 29, son Naveed, four, and two-year-old daughter Muska, he said: ‘It was a nightmare fearing we would not escape but I never gave up hope knowing that you [the Mail] were on my side and pressing my case. We are looking forward to making Britain proud, and giving back to it.’
We’re so happy… this is our home now
Two days ago, Farid Rahmani asked his four-year-old daughter Tahura whether she missed Afghanistan.
The answer was emphatic: ‘No. I want to stay here. We are happy now. This is home.’
The 37-year-old former senior translator at the British Embassy in Kabul said the words made him and his wife Fatima, 32, feel tearful.
Farid, shot three months ago in a Taliban ambush as he drove home, said: ‘The whole family are so happy to be here and to have left behind the Taliban bullets. Everything about the old Afghanistan which we liked is what the Taliban hates and will kill. They wanted me dead. We know we are lucky. My brother who worked ten years with the British is stuck with three colleagues.’
Two days ago, Farid Rahmani asked his four-year-old daughter Tahura whether she missed Afghanistan. The answer was emphatic: ‘No. I want to stay here. We are happy now. This is home’
Farid served Britain for 17 years. But he was one of 21 translators at the embassy told they did not qualify to come to the UK. Incredibly, he was rejected days after being shot.
After the Mail campaign highlighted his case, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is said to have personally intervened. All 21 were granted sanctuary. Farid and his wife have six children – Ahmad, 13, Mohammad, 12, Beseshta, ten, Sumaya, six, Tahura and Hasenat, two.
It’s a dream to fall asleep without fear
Latif Hottak, 37, and his family – wife Ruqia, 35, and children Zaki, 13, Sana, 11, Sama, ten, and seven-year-old Sudies – had been denied the right to come to the UK because the Ministry of Defence said he was dismissed from his job as an interpreter in January 2011
Latif Hottak looked out over the Thames from the window of his quarantine hotel and summed up the difference in his family’s life in the last few days as ‘unbelievable… from hell to heaven’.
Latif is an ex-interpreter, who spent six years with UK forces, three on the frontline
The ex-interpreter, who spent six years with UK forces, three on the frontline, said: ‘This is a dream. We are finally relearning the meaning of being able to relax, to fall asleep without fear and nerves, to wake with excitement and purpose.’
The 37-year-old and his family – wife Ruqia, 35, and children Zaki, 13, Sana, 11, Sama, ten, and seven-year-old Sudies – had been denied the right to come to the UK because the Ministry of Defence said he was dismissed from his job as an interpreter in January 2011.
But salary records, handed to the MoD by the Mail, suggested Latif was still working more than a year later.
Within days, he received the ‘wonderful news’ that the decision had been reversed.
Latif added: ‘This is possible because of the Daily Mail and my brother Rafi [a former interpreter blown up on the frontlines who has relocated to the UK]. Everyone else gave up on us.’