Large numbers of British citizens continued to wait outside Kabul airport over the weekend despite terror threats, desperately hoping there might still be a way to get on one of the last flights out of Afghanistan.
Several expressed dismay at the abrupt cessation of emails and calls from UK officials about evacuation plans and the absence of official advice about what to do after repatriation flights ended, with the final British troops having left on Saturday.
Concerns were raised again about whether there was a two-tier approach to getting people out of Afghanistan, with fears that single-nationality Britons had been prioritised over those of Afghan origin.
British nationals, many of Afghan origin, said they had taken a calculated risk to return to the airport hours after an explosion on Thursday that killed 180 people, because it seemed the only way to get the attention of the last remaining UK officials. On Sunday tensions rose again as US forces launched a military strike on a vehicle carrying “multiple [Islamic State] suicide bombers”.
“We know it’s dangerous there, but everyone is panicking now,” a 35-year-old car mechanic from east London said by phone from Kabul. “No one is replying to our emails and calls.” He said he was unable to speak to anyone official because each time he attempted to get close to the airport gates he was shouted at by guards who told him to move back.
British citizens at Kabul airport ask Boris Johnson for help – video
There are no official estimates of the number of UK citizens remaining in Afghanistan but the mechanic said there appeared to be significant numbers still waiting by the spot where they were previously told to gather.
He spoke to 11 other British citizens by the gates late on Saturday night and sent videos to the Guardian of them waiting with their passports, still hopeful that someone might emerge from inside. “This was just a small group of people by one airport gate. There must be so many more.”
Some had been told on Saturday to await instructions telling them where to catch a bus to transport them to the airport, and were still waiting on Sunday. “They called at 2.30 yesterday to say, don’t worry, you’re on our list, we will send you an address to go to, where you can catch a bus to the airport. Since then there has been nothing. I’m worried we’ve been forgotten,” the mechanic said.
He has been a British citizen since fleeing violence in Afghanistan as a teenage refugee in 2002 shortly after coalition forces invaded the country. He returned to Kabul a fortnight ago because he was worried about his parents and wanted to help them reach safety.
Another UK citizen said all communication from British officials suddenly stopped on Friday around the time he was expecting to receive final evacuation instructions. “I haven’t heard anything at all. There has been a total information blackout,” he said. “I feel particularly angry that no one bothered to give me a call after Friday morning even to check if we were OK. How hard it could be to just call those left behind and reassure them, or give them a bit of information on the next step?”
He said the Foreign Office staff he spoke to previously had been “compassionate and sympathetic” but now he was concerned his emails were no longer being read. Like several others, he wondered whether there was a two-tier approach to getting people out of Afghanistan.
“The UK has always felt like home ever since I moved there as a refugee – it has given me a lot, an education, freedom, job, a life that I had dreamt of. But, for the first time I have felt like maybe I am not British enough,” he said.
“Boris [Johnson] would definitely have moved ‘heaven and earth’ if instead it was a non Afghan-British person stranded in Afghanistan. But in my case and that of many others, I simply don’t have the confidence he will.”
Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said last Wednesday that almost all “mono-nationals” – single-nationality UK passport holders who wanted to leave Afghanistan – had been brought home. Immigration lawyers said no distinction should be made between people who have dual nationality and those who do not.
The Foreign Office has denied there was any prioritisation of one group over another in the evacuation process. “We will continue to do all we can to deliver on our obligation to get British nationals and eligible Afghans out of the country while the security situation allows,” a spokesperson said.