'My family is in danger': Refugee shares horrors he endured in Afghanistan before coming to Northamptonshire

In just four days, Rahimullah went from working in a high profile government job to fleeing from the Taliban and now he fears for the lives of his loved ones

By Megan Hillery
Thursday, 27th January 2022, 9:07 am

One of more than 200 refugees currently in Northamptonshire has spoken out about the traumatic events he faced in Afghanistan last year.

Rahimullah Saighani, 31, worked as a communication and advocacy advisor to the minister of public health in Afghanistan. His job was to write articles on public health and help to shape the government's Covid guidance during the pandemic.

On August 15 2021, Rahimullah's life was about to change forever. He was in his office that morning when he received word that the Taliban was coming for him.

Rahimullah Saighani, 31, had no choice but to flee Afghanistan after his government job made him a target for the Taliban. Photo by Kirsty Edmonds.

Rahimullah said: "I was told if you want to save your life and save your family, you have to leave your job.

"I could not go home because I knew it was being monitored and a lot of people working for the government were being targeted by the Taliban."

In the three days that followed, Rahimullah was on the run from the militant group and had to hide away in a friend's flat. During that time, he was able to make contact with one of his brothers and they attempted to flee together. When they arrived at the Kabul airport, a Taliban solider attacked his brother with a knife.

The siblings tried to use their family visa to go to the United States but Rahimullah was refused by the Taliban and he was separated from his brother. He describes how a soldier berated him and shattered his phone screen because he was wearing a suit instead of traditional Afghani clothes.

Rahimullah is one of 320 Afghanistan refugees who were welcomed into Northamptonshire last September. Photo by Kirsty Edmonds.

Rahimullah was eventually evacuated to the UK on August 19 during the Kabul airlift. With his family lost, he had to leave behind his parents, four sisters, four brothers, six nephews, cousins, his grandmother and all of his friends.

His two brothers have since been evacuated to the United States - at different times. Meanwhile, the rest of his family remains in Afghanistan.

On three occasions, Rahimullah was able to reach them on their phones but contact is limited as it is not allowed and they can never stay in one place for too long for fear of being tracked down by the Taliban.

Rahimullah was one of 220 Afghanistan refugees to be welcomed into Northamptonshire last September. He is currently staying in one of two hotels as he awaits legal documentation so that he can be resettled under the government's Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS).

Rahimullah said: "Now, I am here safe but my family is not safe. Physically, I am here but mentally, I am so far from here. My family is in danger in Afghanistan.

"Here, I start a new step, a new challenge and I am sure I will make a better life and start my education. One of my big targets is to invite my family here because they are not safe in Afghanistan.

"Sometimes, I am thinking in my room and I think about my request to the government - especially the home office - they have an important responsibility to evacuate the families of the Afghans who are a target."

Rahimullah now has plans to provide support to fellow refugees through education by teaching them to write in English as well as the Pashto and Dari languages, putting together programmes to help them integrate into the UK and assisting with Covid-19 measures. He also wants to film a documentary about refugee life in the UK so that their stories can be shared across the nation.

West Northamptonshire Council publicly thanked residents back in October after receiving nearly 500 offers of help and donations from individuals and local businesses when they released a list of essential items needed to support refugees.

Rahimullah was keen to express his gratitude towards the county. He said: "I appreciate the council and their teams and the people living here. They are very kind people; they are very supportive of Afghan refugees.

"We find good people - they've donated clothes, materials, all kinds of things. All this is for us, for Afghan children and adults."

Councillor David Smith, cabinet member for community safety and engagement and regulatory services, added: “Some of our original arrivals have now moved on into more settled accommodation and we’ve welcomed more guests in the past week.

“We’ve had an amazing response from people in Northamptonshire who have been extremely generous in terms of donations and in spirit – they’ve really helped us make our visitors feel welcome.

“Throughout this time, we and partner agencies have provided a huge level of assistance to make sure Children have appropriate schooling, and families have access to sport and recreational opportunities, and healthcare during their time with us.

“The level of support from everyone has been overwhelming, so much so that we’ve recently closed our appeal for donations as we have more than enough of everything to cover everyone’s needs.”

The Afghanistan Citizens Resettlement Scheme, which was officially launched on January 6 2022, aims to resettle more then 5,000 refugees this year and up to 20,000 in the coming years.

The government will prioritise vulnerable people - including women, girls and minority groups at risk - and those who have assisted the UK efforts in Afghanistan and stood up for values such as democracy, women's rights, freedom of speech and rule of law.

Anyone who is resettled through the ACRS will receive indefinite leave to enter or remain in the UK, and will be able to apply for British citizenship after five years.

This newspaper asked Rahimullah if he has a message for his family. To that, he responded: "In Afghanistan, the culture is different. Family is always living in one area - one house - my family is big.

"I am here safe and I am always thinking about how I should help them. I am working hard trying to invite them here soon and their door is always open for me, I will always knock for them, for their life. I will try to invite them here to start a new life with my family. I am safe but I always think about my family. I miss all of my family."