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It’s been more than a year since the West’s dramatic withdrawal from the region, but still, the effects continue to be felt. With the Taliban having intensified its persecution of LGBT+ individuals, torture, gang-rape and executions occur almost daily.
A community already at risk has been forced deeper underground in a bid to avoid capture.
‘The Afghan LGBT+ community has already been ravaged by Taliban persecution,’ warns Peter Tatchell, the prominent LGBTQ+ activist and human rights campaigner. ‘Unless western governments act swiftly to provide refuge, it is in danger of annihilation.
‘LGBT+ Afghans in Afghanistan are totally justified in feeling they have been let down by the West. It is a great betrayal – if more had been evacuated, many lives could have been saved. They are living in a state of terror; in constant fear of a Taliban knock at the door.’
According to Freedom of Information figures obtained by Metro.co.uk from the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO), out of the 21,450 Afghan refugees who have been resettled in the UK since the fall of Kabul, just 97 are from the LGBT+ community.
Huge waves of escape and resettlement have characterised the new Taliban regime (Picture: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/Rex/Shutterstock)
For Nemat Sadat, Executive Director of Roshaniya, the threat to LGBT+ Afghans has never been greater. And without targeted help from the West, especially the UK government, the community risks losing more of its members.
‘There is no safety net for LGBT+ Afghans,’ he explains. ‘There is no interest to evacuate them now, and Western governments are not giving humanitarian visas. The Taliban are penetrating into the LGBT+ Afghan network, torturing and killing people, and there is no help on the way.
‘Not only could the UK have saved lives lost, but it could save the lives of LGBT+ people who are in the process of getting tortured and killed.
‘It’s absolutely horrifying to know that at any minute you can be discovered and dragged away to the torture chambers and endure agony until you die. LGBT+ Afghans have pleaded the world for help. Unfortunately, the world keeps its back on my people as if they are disposable, or irrelevant.’
To give an insight into the daily horrors experienced by those still trapped in Kabul, Metro.co.uk spoke to five LGBT+ Afghans, whose names have been changed to protect their identity.
‘I’m waiting for my death’
Noor, 27, is a trans woman who served as an interpreter for coalition forces in Helmand Province. Having had her application for resettlement to the UK rejected, and narrowly escaping imprisonment, she worries she’ll never be able to escape Afghanistan.
‘Having served the UK and other forces, I feel they have left me behind in danger’ (Picture: Supplied)
‘I was shocked when I heard the news that coalition forces were leaving Afghanistan. Seeing the thousands of people standing outside the airport, I remember thinking there would be nothing left once the Taliban arrived, and LGBT+ people would be most at risk.
In the morning, it seemed like the whole nation began to travel, and I remember crying. I didn’t eat for two days because I was so scared of what would happen and felt so sad that our allies had left us.
Soon, I took my bag and my documents and ran to a taxi to travel to the airport. There were thousands of people inside, and I spent five nights in the terminal waiting for a flight. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to escape and have since been living in fear.
Following the Taliban takeover, I’ve been threatened with death many times and received a number of letters and calls telling me that I’m going to be killed. I can barely go out shopping, or even to the hospital due to the danger. I’ve had to change my location multiple times.
Noor was shocked and saddened at the leaving of coalition forces from Afghanistan (Picture: MoD/Crown copyright)
I never talk on the phone for fear of being discovered, and I’m forced to wear men’s clothes and grow a beard to disguise my face so that no one recognises me easily. As a trans woman, hiding myself is much more difficult because of my body – so I keep myself away in a dark room.
A few months ago, the Taliban found me. They beat me and locked me inside a basement. All I could remember when they shut the door was that this would be my last moment.
The militants blindfolded me and raped me regularly for three days, and only stopped to bring me water. It was only after two days, when my father brought the village elders to negotiate my release, that I managed to escape.
It’s a miracle that I was allowed to go, and that I’m still alive. But I still live in fear and waiting for my death. I truly feel that if I get caught again they’ll shoot me.
I’ve tried so many times to apply for resettlement to the UK and hoped that I would be evacuated because I served them as an interpreter. But, I found that because I couldn’t get access to my supervisor’s email, my case could not be processed further.
Noor, like many Afghans, has been desperate to escape (Picture: Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images)
Now, I’ve lost all hope. I truly fear that I will be forever stuck in Afghanistan. I don’t know what will happen to me, but having served the UK and other forces, I feel they have left me behind in danger.’
‘I fear I’ll be trapped forever’
Salim is a 29-year-old gay man who served as an interpreter for British and American forces during military operations. When he discovered that allied troops had hurriedly withdrawn from Afghanistan, he couldn’t help but feel betrayed. Now, he fears it’s only a matter of time before he is captured.
‘I never imagined that one day Western forces would withdraw from Afghanistan and allow my country to be recaptured by terrorists. But when I found out, my world turned to hell.
When the Taliban invaded, I knew that my life would become high risk – not only because I worked for British forces, but because I am gay. I had no choice but to burn all the documents related to my work during the war, and force myself to stay hidden at home.
Living here is not easy for me, and that’s without being gay. If the Taliban knew I was part of the LGBT+ community, as well as working for the West, they would almost certainly kill me. For more than a year, I haven’t been able to meet my partner and I’m not able to speak freely about my sexuality.
Salim escaped punishment when the Taliban first stormed Kabul, but has lived in fear since (Picture: Javed Tanveer/AFP via Getty Images)
At first when the Taliban came, I walked through Kabul and thought there would be no issues, but I was searched by a Talib who went through my phone’s messages and photos, and asked me about my previous job. Fortunately, they let me go, but I was so scared and promised myself not to go out because next time, as I was scared they could find something and arrest me. I received approval from the Ministry of Defence to be resettled in the UK, however, despite passing all the steps, the Home Office refused my application and gave me no specific reason for why.
I’m disappointed that the UK doesn’t seem to value my services. I stood in the front lines of war with British forces to help them achieve their targets, and now it seems I have been abandoned here forever. ‘
‘All my dreams have been destroyed’
Hasrat*, 23, is a trans woman, and the child of a father with close connections to senior Taliban figures. She fled the family home and applied to the UK for resettlement, but currently lives in hiding as she waits for an answer.
‘Since I was a child, and knew that I was transgender, I have been unloved by my father’ (Picture: Hasrat)
‘Since I was a child, and knew that I was transgender, I have been unloved by my father. I was deprived of going to school and could only study with my mother.
Most of our relatives believed that I had travelled to study somewhere else, but I was actually locked underground inside a small and dark room where nobody could hear me.
I was imprisoned for two whole years, from the end of my childhood and into the beginning of my teenage years – all because of my gender identity.
One day, I managed to get out and spent time playing with my sister’s clothes and mother’s makeup. Suddenly, I turned and my father was standing there. He kicked me and beat me so hard that I couldn’t stand up. If my mother had not defended me that night, I might have ended up dead.
After this, my father, who knows many Taliban commanders, decided he would kill me so that he could continue to be respected by those within the village. Away from the eyes of people, he threw a shawl over me and took me to a place far away to murder me. He tied up my hands and threw me into a deep well which luckily was dry.
When I opened my eyes, I was in such pain. I felt like I was dead and I didn’t have the energy to raise my voice. I thought that this would be my last living moment, but when I awoke, I heard my brother calling me.
Hasrat is now in Kabul, and constantly targeted by Taliban militants (Picture: AP)
With rope he pulled me to the top of the well, hugged me, put some money in my hands and told me to run for my life. Now I’m in Kabul, and don’t know what I should do.
Last week, I went with a Taliban militant after he verbally attacked me because of the way I walk. He tortured me beside the road, but because people are very afraid of the Taliban, no-one stopped it.
Luckily I was taken to hospital, and whenever I think about this, I wonder whether they would have killed me if my identity was revealed. Now, I can’t sleep and have nightmares that I have been arrested by the Taliban.
I’ve been trying to find a way to get to the UK, and applied through one of the LGBT+ groups. I filled out the entire application form and received a letter telling me that I would have to wait for a response for eight weeks.
Eventually, that time passed and I was told that my application was rejected. I don’t know why. It is a decision that has kept me in danger, and my dreams have been destroyed.
Everyday I’m afraid that I might be captured by the Taliban because there are many people from our village who are in the top positions of the Islamic Emirate government. I don’t even have a passport so I can’t even escape from here.
Now I’m more afraid and I feel as though death is within a few steps of me.’
‘Nobody is listening to us’
Ahmadullah, 28, managed to escape Afghanistan and hoped to be resettled in the UK so he could go to university here. Identified on a list presented by Nemat Sadat to the FCDO along with more than 850 LGBT+ Afghans earlier as requiring evacuation, he is now trapped in a refugee camp in the United Arab Emirates, where life remains dangerous.
‘The camp is like a prison – you’re not allowed to go outside and you’re not allowed to speak for yourself. I spend every day locked inside a tiny room with food that is barely edible. Mostly I just eat bread with water or milk.
I’m stuck here with nothing. Although I’m free from the danger I experienced while on the run in Afghanistan, here I’m a prisoner who is locked in a cage with nowhere to go and nothing to do.
Ahmadullah still feels trapped in the Afghan capital (Picture: Wakil Koshar/AFP via Getty Images)
Even so, it’s still the same in that I have to hide my true identity. I can’t tell others that I’m gay otherwise they would harass, bully or even try to rape me. It’s not safe for us as we’re trapped in the same block as soldiers from the previous Afghan government who say they hate LGBT+ people.
Others within the camp think of us as the worst humans, many of us are scared and always lock our doors and pretend to sleep out of fear. A few weeks ago, someone I know tried to take their own life, but he was luckily saved.
People knock at our doors and try to disturb us. We can’t go outside during the day to take a shower or use the bathroom. I haven’t left my room properly since I got here more than a year ago – it’s like I’m living here as a prisoner that hasn’t committed a crime.
At night, I get so scared and keep overthinking because I’m left behind. I’ve tried contacting a number of LGBT+ organisations, but haven’t received a response. Sometimes, I get so tired wondering whether I’ll ever be able to start a life where I can be open about my sexuality.
Whenever I try to sleep, my loved ones come in to my mind. It was always my dream to be able to come to the UK and study at university with my boyfriend and build a new life together.
It shouldn’t be a crime to be gay. Many of us are still stuck in Afghanistan with the Taliban hunting them down. Western countries must work together to help us out of this living hell, but no one is listening to us.’
*Since speaking to Metro.co.uk Ahmadullah has been relocated to Canada after his application for asylum was granted just a couple of weeks ago.
‘I had two friends in Afghanistan who were both set on fire’
Ozlam, 25, managed to escape Afghanistan after the Taliban’s invasion and now lives in Pakistan. Her name was given to the FCDO shortly after the invasion of the Taliban as some requiring evacuation.
Ozlam is advocating for more to be done to help Afghan refugees (Picture: Supplied)
‘When I came out to my family ten years ago, they didn’t accept me. I believe God made me like this and I wanted to live my life as my true self, so I escaped from my house. I lived in Kabul for 10 years and didn’t imagine that my life would be in this much danger.
After the Taliban took over I had to hide in my house for four months, and because my fiancé didn’t have a passport, I remained trapped. But when soldiers attacked our house, we became homeless in Kabul for weeks.
Although we managed to find a new home, life was hard for me. I couldn’t go out and I couldn’t wear the clothes that I wanted to. I had to cover my body – especially my chest – to hide the fact I was trans. I never went out unless I had to because if the Taliban saw me, they would kill me.
On one occasion, I was stopped at a Taliban checkpoint when taking laundry and asked if I had taken drugs, but luckily because of the clothes they could not tell that I was trans and let me through. After that, I was scared the Taliban would find me and attack me, so I didn’t leave the house unless it was for work.
It wasn’t easy escaping Afghanistan. I had to pay a lot of money to get a visa and documents from a private hospital who helped me fake having cancer. When we passed through the border in an ambulance, the Taliban questioned my fiancé, and why they were taking me to Pakistan. All the way I pretended to be unconscious so they wouldn’t know about me.
Eventually, they let us through and I was taken to the local border hospital in Pakistan. The staff didn’t know I had faked my illness, and after checking my documents, they let me go and I made my way to the safe house. Without doing this, it would have been impossible to get out of the country.
My life is slightly safer now I’m in Pakistan. I can at least wear the clothes I want, but Pakistan is still anti-LGBT and has connections to the Taliban – so being transgender is difficult for me.
When I was trying to flee from Afghanistan I promised myself that I would raise the voices of LGBT+ Afghans. I knew so many friends who were being tortured and even murdered. And that’s why I decided to protest to raise attention to the world of the sacrifices so many in the community make.
I’m fighting for our rights, and I will keep fighting – our life is in God’s hands. I had two friends in Afghanistan who were both set on fire and really badly injured by the Taliban – so if I die by protesting, it will be an honourable death for me.
No one has helped us, we are still alone. Nemat Sadat has the biggest list of LGBT+ Afghans which was presented to the UK, but still they have done nothing. As a country that supports LGBT+ people it is so disappointing that we have just been left here.’
What the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office say:
A spokesperson for the FCDO told Metro.co.uk: ‘The UK was one of the first countries since the fall of Kabul to facilitate a safe relocation route for at risk LGBT+ Afghans. Most are already in the UK, while some have been relocated to other safe countries or are undergoing processing in third countries for relocation to the UK.
‘We will continue to do all we can to help at-risk LGBT+ Afghans.’