Sunday, August 15, 2021 is a date that will be etched on the memories of millions of Afghan people.
It was the day Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, after almost two decades of being under Government leadership.
The lives of 35 million people changed forever, with more than 123,000 airlifted out of Kabul airport by military planes and tens of thousands fleeing by foot to neighbouring countries.
As today marks 100 days under Taliban control, we hear from Shukoor Sangar and Zahra Joya, who both fled their country in fear of their safety.
Just weeks before the Taliban took control, Shukoor, his heavily pregnant wife and their two young boys were advised to leave for the UK for their safety.
Shukoor worked as a protocol visa officer and executive assistant to the New Zealand ambassador. The 46-year-old and his family have been housed in West London but he left behind his mum, four sisters and one brother.
Shukoor Sangar and his family were told to leave Afghanistan just weeks before the Taliban took control for their own safety
Shukoor says: "Right now my family is struggling, like everyone else in Afghanistan is. My sister who is a judge has managed to get a flight to Italy but my mother, brother and three sisters still remain in Afghanistan. On top of everything the food and fuel crisis is another level of challenge added to the lives of Afghan people. People are working but not receiving any salary. There is no support system for people there. The salaries are low, but people used that to live on, now they have nothing.
"Every member of my family has lost their jobs. I don’t know what the future holds for the people of Afghanistan but what I do know is that nothing positive is going to happen anytime soon, there seems to be no hope.
"Before I left, we knew a situation was going to happen, because there had been two or three times in the past when the Government had collapsed. But this time we had a sixth-sense but we didn’t know it was going to happen that quickly. It was Eid when I was advised to leave the country so everything was closed and I had no time to prepare anything. We were told to leave and within three days we got onto our flight. We just packed very little and went.
"I gave my salary and savings to my family, I can survive on little money here, they need it more than me. Most of my salary and savings have been blocked by the bank in Afghanistan, I’ve lost most of the money. I’ve told my family to get new clothes because they have nothing. Right now I’ve told them to prepare for the winter, it is going to be tough. They left everything at home after escaping Taliban. It is not like here, they don’t have central heating or gas. They need to buy warm clothes and blankets to survive the coming winter, temperatures drop to -25C.
Shukoor left behind many family members who are now in hiding
"After arriving here, things changed really quickly back in Afghanistan. Every province was being taken over by the Taliban without any fights, there were some dirty games, there were some high-deal secrecy arrangements between the previous Government and the Taliban so that they didn’t allow the military or police to fight against the Taliban. Military planes started arriving very quickly and I tried to get my family out of there but there was no hope or support.
"My family is currently in hiding, in Afghanistan, because after I left the country, the Taliban came looking for me. The Taliban searched every corner of our house, they took my car, documents and some embassy photos. I’ve told my family to never go back to our home, to just forget it.
"For two days, I didn’t have any contact with my family, while they were on the run. I was really, really, really worried, I couldn’t sleep. I was ringing every relative I could for news, but then someone told me they were safe. They are in hiding now, they will keep moving from province to province after every few weeks. They don’t even have a car. We hope they can leave the country soon, but right now the borders are closed.
"I have been in Afghanistan since I was born and to leave all this behind was hard. When I spoke to my old neighbour, he told me a Taliban family is now living in my home. At this moment in time, it feels impossible that I will ever see my home again. It is sad and disappointing that everything we worked for over the 20 years has ended like this in just one day, you just leave everything behind, to go to a new place where you don’t even have a home, no facilities, nothing.
"When we arrived in the UK, people were very welcoming, they looked after us, to be honest I was not expecting such kindness or good people. The weather is nice, because it is colder in Afghanistan, the weather is just right here.
Shukoor in Afghanistan with relatives
"The children love their school, although some nights I see them crying in bed, because they miss their life and their friends. My wife feels very isolated, she misses her home and her family. It is a different world for us, it will take time to settle.
“It has been hard getting to know how the NHS works and registering at the GP. Unfortunately it was very tough when my wife went into labour, she went in alone and she couldn’t speak English. Sometimes the receptionist would look after the boys. We have had a visit from the leader of our council and Victoria Atkins, Minister for Afghan Resettlement.
"We are searching for Afghan bread, we tried some, but the boys say it is not the same as back home. We spent one day in Central London in Half Term, it was our first time ever on the train, we saw the London Eye, Big Ben and London Bridge. After everything recently, it was just nice to spend time with my family.
"But right now my family needs my support here as we settle into our new life. When I see Afghan on the news I see a haven for the forgotten people, we have left them in a very bad situation."
Zahra, 29, lived in Kabul, with her parents, two brothers and four sisters. Zahra, who is a journalist and owner of Rukhshana Media, was forced to flee to the UK with her four younger siblings and her baby niece.
Zahra escaped to the UK with her younger siblings
Zahra, who is living in a London hotel, says: “Kabul is empty, the streets of Kabul are bare, my friends tell me. The city is empty, people are too afraid to leave their homes. Everybody is scared of the Taliban, everyone is afraid. I’m so worried about the future of my relatives and friends.
"The situation there right now is horrible, the prices of everything have increased and there is no way for me to send any money to my parents. People are running out of food I have been told. Everyone just stays home, my relatives who worked as teachers, shopkeepers and in offices lost their jobs, now none of them work, no money is coming in.
"At first I didn't want to leave my country or my life, I believed I could continue my job as journalist in Afghanistan but after two weeks, I came to the conclusion that I could not continue working as a journalist in this country.
"The British Embassy arranged everything within two days. I got a call at 10am and an email to say my flight was at 2pm that same day and our names were on the list at the airport. We got ready and my relatives dropped us close to the airport, but not right outside for safety reasons. It was the hardest goodbye, it was very emotional for us all. But my relatives just wanted us on the plane and not to stay at the airport, because an explosive could have happened anytime and it did, the very next day. It could have been us at that airport when the explosion happened.
Crowds of Afghans at Kabul airport on August 16, 2021, desperately trying to flee as the Taliban took control of Afghanistan after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country
AFP or licensors)
"The airport was very crowded, it is hard to describe, but I never imagined these scenes. Elderly people, women and children were crying, just so desperate to leave the country. It was very hot, we were in the middle of summer, nobody could see this crisis coming. You have to remember everyone at the airport was there because they were too afraid of the Taliban, they just wanted to leave their country. It was so painful and horrible to watch people desperately trying to get a flight. We brought nothing with us, just my work laptop. I never endured such an experience like this in my life. It will be a day I will never forget.
"After all the hard work over the last 20 years, life has become meaningless, people have lost their hope and hope for the future. For me, physically I am safe but mentally I am not safe, I have a lot of problems in my mind, I can’t sleep, I can’t stop thinking about Afghanistan and my family. It is difficult to talk about the crisis and the situation.
"When I see brave women on the streets in Afghanistan, speaking up about the Taliban or protesting against them and asking for their rights, it makes me very happy and proud. I think as a reporter, my voice is louder now. Rukhshana Media always covers women's protests over and over again, I think it is very important, because this is for history. I wish I was there to support them, but I was at risk if I stayed there. Journalists there have stopped doing their work, our industry is at risk, it is under threat.
"It is very painful for me to watch, because the international community has forgotten Afghanistan, they have forgotten Afghan women, they have forgotten about the young generation of Afghanistan that worked for this country.
"It was very hard to leave our home behind. The hardest moment was to say goodbye to my relatives. I had a very simple life, but it was very lovely. Never did I imagine I would have to leave my country. It is very hard, that a group of people force you to leave your country, leave your home, leave your family, it was just painful. At that time, I lost everything, even my hope for the future.
Zahra Joya fled to the UK in August after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan
"When I arrived in the UK, all I felt was safe, I knew I was safe but also I knew my sisters’ were safe. They are young girls, they are from the Hesarak community and if they were in Afghanistan, they would have lost their hope, their lives, and they wouldn’t have been able to continue their education.
"When we arrived at Dubai airport for a stopover, we got a phone call from Kabul to say my two younger sisters had passed their exams with high scores. They hope to start their education again at college and university. My brother has started school here. We’re starting to rebuild our lives from zero. But this is very hard to do because we’re still living in a hotel.
"We have made some friends with other Afghan girls in the hotel. Some nights we come together in one room to chat, joke and even dance. We joke about how we can fix ourselves and our situation. My baby niece makes our day, even on the most stressful days, we go for a walk together, as she has recently started to walk.
Zahra is now living in a hotel with her four younger siblings and baby niece.
"The Taliban don’t believe in human rights, they don’t believe in women’s rights, they don’t believe in freedom of expression and they don’t believe in the freedom of the media. They are following a very wrong ideology where they don’t accept any rights, apart from their own rights.
"We have lost our hope for the future, but I hope we can find a way to fix our lives again and to be together again so we can start a new life. It will be very hard to start from nothing, I know it is very hard, it won’t be easy, the Taliban don’t want us to have a life, but we will have a life, we will make our future."
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