Malalai’s father, Yusuf, was already very suspicious. Life in Afghanistan was becoming increasingly risky.
Anticipating disaster, he used the British citizenship he acquired as an asylum seeker in 2001 during the former Taliban terror regime to flee. Kabul.
Hoping his wife Sherbano and daughter Malalai, then nine, would join him soon, he took what turned out to be one of the last commercial flights from Afghanistan August 14, 2021 – one day before the country fell.
When Taliban fighters claimed victory the following day, he endured a desperate wait in a quarantine hotel in London to see if the British government’s Afghan Citizen Resettlement Scheme could get his family out alive.
A new three-part Sky News podcast, Out of Afghanistan, follows the stories of Yusuf, Sherbano, Malalai and other Afghan refugees, from the evacuation to today – one year later.
Their names have been changed to protect their safety.
Malalai’s mother, Sherbano, was preparing Sunday lunch when the Taliban took over.
As a British citizen herself, she immediately called the Home Office but had to wait two agonizing days with gunfire outside until she received a call.
“They called me and said you could go to the airport, but it was late at night and after 10 p.m. we couldn’t go out and the situation was absolutely unsafe,” a- she declared.
“They told me you can’t take any luggage with you, just a little carry-on.”
Malalai adds, “I have so many things to do at school – my cousin is a student so I have to give her everything. I miss my home now, my grandma was crying, we hugged.”
Four died while we were at the airport
Sherbano took Malalai and her cousin Maiwand to Kabul airport, where the world saw harrowing scenes of people clutching the outside of planes in an attempt to escape.
They headed for the Baron Hotel where the British Army had set up processing operations.
There they spent three days, without food or shelter from the scorching sun.
And with the Islamic State operating in the city, fears of an impending suicide attack at the airport were constant.
A few days after their arrival an explosion in the sewage channel between the Baron Hotel and the Abbey Gate entrance to the airport killed 170 Afghans and 13 US Marines a few hundred yards away.
“People were overwhelming,” Sherbano recalls. “When we were there, four people died.”
Eventually, after two days and three nights, the three of them boarded a military plane for Dubai, where they boarded another for London.
Once reunited with Yusuf, they were one of many families to be accommodated in one of Bristol’s two ‘post hotels’.
According to official figures, thousands of Afghans are still waiting in these hotels a year after the evacuation.
“It’s not a house”
Although they have a roof over their heads and food to eat, life in Limbo proves frustrating.
Yusuf says, “The main thing for me at home is cooking, so I would cook a lot of things at home. Here you don’t do anything, you get lazy all day, especially if you don’t work.”
Sherbano adds, “It’s not a house.”
Malalai, meanwhile, starts school and struggles.
“I’m so new here. The culture, everything is so different,” she says.
“I go to school but I don’t have any friends because I don’t speak much English.
“In Afghanistan, I had so many friends. I miss them so much. I hate breaks…in Afghanistan, we don’t have breaks.”
Donna Curran, a senior support worker who supports refugees in Bristol, says these cultural differences are important to note when trying to find permanent homes for families.
“There are a lot of comments that they never use sofas, they prefer floor cushions,” she says.
“Apartments rather than houses – gardens are not something they desire.”
Relatives still trapped under the Taliban regime
Out of Afghanistan speaks to another family who are resettled in Peterhead – north of Aberdeen.
One of them, Ali, says: “It’s really hard to chat with the locals here, their accent is really different.”
He came to the UK through the government’s Afghanistan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP) programme, after working as an interpreter for the British Army.
Another refugee, Afzal, is still worried about several family members still stranded in the country.
He said, “I’m afraid of one of my brothers, maybe for a month I haven’t spoken yet.
“Just two or three times I get her sound on [my phone]. Internet is not of good quality in Afghanistan
“We hope for a change in Afghanistan from the Taliban – that they stop hurting people.”
All three episodes of Out of Afghanistan, presented by Sky News chief correspondent Stuart Ramsay, will be released on August 8