“I escaped from my house with just the clothes I was wearing”: How the Red Cross is supporting families arriving from Afghanistan
Since flights carrying families from Afghanistan started arriving this summer, Red Cross staff and volunteers have been on hand to support in whatever way they can
"We are safe here but I am so tense because our remaining family is in danger,” says Abas*. “I am sending many emails and calling every day.”
Abas and his family arrived in the UK in August, and have since been staying in a hotel in Hertfordshire.
Abas, his wife and their four children are among the 400 people the British Red Cross has supported in Hertfordshire so far, alongside Hertfordshire County Council.
“The Red Cross is visiting us every day and they are very helpful,” says Abas. “We ask them for anything we need and they are there for us – always so good.”
The British Red Cross has launched the Afghanistan Crisis Appeal in support of the people of Afghanistan.
£40 could help provide psychosocial support to Afghan families arriving in the UK to recover from their distressing experience, while £150 could help provide essential items to Afghan families arriving in the UK with few belongings.
Staying in touch with loved ones in Afghanistan
Abas’s mother and five siblings remain in Afghanistan. For now, he and many others who have reached the UK must live in constant fear for their loved ones. The Red Cross has organised SIM cards to help families stay in touch.
Sadly, Abas’s wife recently suffered a miscarriage at eight weeks pregnant.
“It’s been a terrible time for the family who are trying to keep strong in a difficult and stressful situation,” says Cathy, a Red Cross emergency response officer who has been working with the family during their stay.
“We have just tried to be there to help them, by putting them in touch with local GPs and hospital services. I feel very humbled to be able to help. To hear some of the horrific stories and the trauma of leaving loved ones behind is unbelievable.”
Families like Abas’s are part of a UK priority programme to relocate people in Afghanistan who worked for the British Government. Eight thousand Afghans served in the British military, worked as interpreters or embassy staff, or are considered at-risk if not relocated.
Looking for family in Afghanistan?
If you have family affected by the recent developments in Afghanistan the British Red Cross International Family Tracing service might be able to help.
For further support and information related to Afghanistan, click here.
TO HEAR SOME OF THE HORRIFIC STORIES AND THE TRAUMA OF LEAVING LOVED ONES BEHIND IS UNBELIEVABLE.Cathy, emergency response officer
Cathy and her colleague Mekdes have been based in Hertfordshire hotels almost every day since the families started to arrive in early July.
Whether people have needed a compassionate ear, advice with Home Office documentation, or simply some warmer clothing, our staff and volunteers have been there to step in.
Boarding one of the last flights to leave Kabul
Haji and his family arrived in the UK after a traumatic evacuation from Kabul. After receiving injuries in a roadside explosion, it became clear that Haji, his wife and their three children needed to leave as soon as possible.
They went into hiding for four days before making the journey to Kabul airport. The flight they would board would be one of the last out of Kabul.
“The kids were crying, they were terrified,” says Haji. “I was very worried for me and my family. Only when the plane took off and was in the air did I feel as though I could begin to breathe again. Words can’t describe how happy I was in that moment.”
Their rushed departure, though, meant that they left with nothing. “I literally escaped from my house with just the clothes I was wearing,” says Haji. “The British Red Cross has helped me with everything I needed because we arrived just with what we were standing in. Getting a SIM card has been so important – I’m so grateful to have it because it means I could let my friends and family know that we made it OK and that we are safe. I have family in the UK who I want to find because they will be able to help and support us.”
Helping with Home Office documentation
Mekdes, a refugee services officer, has been supporting families who, like Haji’s, were among the last to leave Kabul.
“This is one of the biggest responses I have dealt with during my six years at the Red Cross,” says Mekdes. “We have been at the hotels every day, carrying out information sessions, dealing with documentation, GP registration and queries about onward housing.”
Along with this practical support, Mekdes and her team are also trying to simply be there for people in a time of crisis.
“They are shocked and distressed by what they witnessed there and while they are immensely grateful to be here in safety, they are also anxious about other family members who were left behind,” says Mekdes. “We are just trying to provide as much targeted support as we can, and offer them a chance to talk about their worries.”
THIS IS ONE OF THE BIGGEST RESPONSES I HAVE DEAL WITH IN MY SIX YEARS AT THE RED CROSS.Mekdes, refugee services officer
Many of the people who have arrived from Afghanistan have children with them, so toys and children’s clothing have been a top priority. The Home Office has also been organising transport for the families to visit shops and parks.
Cathy says that keeping children’s spirits high has been an important part of her work.
“They really didn’t ask for much – just what they needed,” says Cathy. “The children are always smiling and that is enough for me.”
*Abas and Haji's names have been changed
Donate to the Afghanistan Crisis Appeal
We've launched an emergency appeal to help people suffering in Afghanistan. Millions need your support today.
You can donate to the appeal by clicking below, and you can learn more about how your donations to the Afghanistan Crisis Appeal will help, here.
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