HUSSEIN Jafari was in his lawyer’s office in Scotland when the call came in – his wife Khatera was crying as Taliban gunshots rang out on the street.

She’s in Kabul with their baby son Yousef, a big-eyed one-year-old who has learned to say “dada” and “salaam” and who Hussein hopes will become a doctor or a pilot.

The pair are alone in the Afghan capital; the sister Khatera was staying with has fled to Tajikistan with their 10-year-old brother and her husband, whose police job put him at risk under the new regime.

They tried to take Khatera and Yousef on their evacuation flight, but the pair were turned away at the airport and returned to the family’s home. They’ve been left alone for now, but Khatera’s brother-in-law was in the police and it’s feared it’s only a matter of time before the Taliban arrive looking for him.


In Glasgow, home to much of Scotland's Afghan community, Hussein’s trying to finish the application process he and his wife started long ago to allow them to live together here. But they can’t book the in-person appointment Khatera needs at the closest visa application centre in Islamabad yet; they can’t even get the papers she needs to cross the border to get there.

With the Taliban in charge and the land border with Pakistan under restrictions, Afghans need papers from the British High Commission in Islamabad that give Pakistani approval for their entry.

There is such a backlog of cases, lawyers say, that it’s hard to get a response. Legal practices in London, Glasgow and Manchester are amongst those sharing concerns about the lack of response to urgent cases regarding clients at risk in Afghanistan.

Privately, several have raised fears that some will get so desperate they’ll pay smugglers the few hundred pounds it costs to arrange an illicit transfer across the border.

Salman Mirza, of Migrant Voice and the Brushstrokes community project in Birmingham, says it’s something people raise with him every day, despite Westminster insistence that only those who travel by safe and legal routes, such as their established visa programme and the forthcoming Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme, will be allowed to stay in the UK.

But beyond the 20,000-head ceiling for the latter, not much is known about it, and major questions have arisen over the former.

“Even the Home Office don’t know what’s going on, everybody’s in the dark,” Mirza says. “My go-to is the UK’s official country guidance. If that says everyone has to wear a blue coat to travel, then I tell everyone to wear a blue coat. Right now, there’s nothing.

“If your house is getting flooded, you want guidance straight away to turn the stopcock off and the electricity off, you don’t stand watching it flood and go ‘I’ll just wait for six weeks’.

“They say there are safe routes for everybody, then people can’t get those safe routes. If you can’t contact the embassy via legal routes, do you break the law or do you die?

“Every day is a bonus if you think the Taliban is going to kill you.”

Hussein, who has indefinite leave to remain in the UK, has given his son the middle name John after the schoolboy who befriended him on arrival in Manchester in 2008. He was just 15 then and couldn’t speak English, and had left Afghanistan after the Taliban murdered his father.

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He and Khatera met though Hussein’s cousin, who is married to her sister. The cousins had regular WhatsApp calls and these were quickly supplanted by lengthy chats with Khatera instead. “We talked for hours, it was perfect,” Hussein says. “I loved her too much, she loved me too much.”

Their colourful wedding three years ago was held in Pakistan for Hussein’s safety. The pair lived there for a while, but with a takeaway business to return to in Lancashire, he came back to the UK as Khatera, who wants to be a teacher, moved in with her sister and continued studying English in preparation for joining him with their son.

The plan was thrown into disarray by the pandemic and now the Taliban. Hussein, who has closed his takeaway and moved to Glasgow to join a relative’s restaurant business, called everyone he could of think of to try to get his family out, including Tajik and Pakistani embassies. All told him only UK authorities can help.

“I had a plan,” the 28-year-old says. “I told her it would be fine, that I could bring them here. Everything is messed-up.”

Glasgow Times:

The phone call with the gun shots came this week amidst serious concerns about the safety of women who are without a male relative in Afghanistan. “She’s not safe,” Hussein says. “She was screaming, my little son was crying. They are in my cousin’s house – the Taliban will come looking for him and they will be there alone.”

“We have made all possible efforts to ensure his wife and child are able to leave Afghanistan and be reunited with Hussein,” says solicitor Francesca Sella, of McGlashan Mackay.

“We have come up against a brick wall in trying to get answers. They will not be able to leave Afghanistan through a safe route unless they are given permission by the authorities. We hope that this case will now be prioritised and that this family can be reunited again.”

Hussein’s MP Alison Thewliss says the case “shows the UK Government is not doing all that it can to allow people to travel to the UK via safe and legal routes, despite repeated assurances from ministers”.

“The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary assured the House [last] week that all outstanding emails regarding the situation in Afghanistan would be answered timeously. I am still waiting for an answer on the majority of my cases. This is completely unacceptable, she said.

Glasgow Times: Alison ThewlissAlison Thewliss

“This family are trying to do the right thing and to engage in the correct way to allow family members to be reunited. It is beyond belief that the UK Government is obstructing this process and making it harder for people to be brought to safety. I will continue to do everything that I can to get answers.”

The Home Office was contacted for comment. It didn't respond to questions about the Jafari family's case or the border-crossing backlog reported by lawyers.

However, the British Government says it is “working urgently with neighbouring countries to ensure that at-risk Afghans have options for safe passage”.