An expert who has spent years helping displaced people in Afghanistan has revealed that he burned documents in his office to protect Taliban targets as Kabul fell.
Abdul Ghafoor’s work assisting refugees and those who had been deported back to Afghanistan made him, his staff and thousands of returnees a target for the Taliban and he had to act quickly to destroy years of data to keep them safe.
When the Taliban reached the capital on August 15, the director of the Afghanistan Migrants Advice and Support Organisation (Amaso) said he was in his office with his team, discussing how to aid 100,000 displaced people in Afghanistan.
“I was just having a regular day at work – because we had heard the Taliban will not enter Kabul,” Mr Ghafoor told the PA news agency.
“All of a sudden (at 11.30am), I received a call – the Taliban are already in Kabul, and they’re getting close to my offices.
“I sent (all of my staff) home and then burned some sensitive documents as soon as I could.”
The documents included identification cards and other paperwork which could lead the Taliban to people who had returned from Western countries like the UK.
“My work is very sensitive… it’s not Taliban-friendly,” said Mr Ghafoor.
“Afghan returnees, among them you have Christian converts, atheists who have changed their religion… they were my main concern.
“To the Taliban, they do not understand the term ‘deportation’ or the term ‘returned’ – to them they are infidels.”
Mr Ghafoor said the journey home from his office was a “chaotic scene” of traffic jams and people who “didn’t know where to go”.
When he got home, he said, he was “worried and terrified” that the Taliban could start searching for him so he threw his laptop and a few belongings into a backpack and went to hide at a friend’s house.
Two days later, he travelled to Hamid Karzai International Airport, after being tipped off by a contact in Germany that he could be evacuated to the nation.
He described his fear each time he passed a Taliban checkpoint, before arriving at the airport at 8am – where he then had to wait for 11 hours to be able to enter the compound.
Eventually, after a two-day journey, he arrived in Frankfurt, where he is now safe with his family – but he is without his home and his possessions, and was unable even to access his bank account to withdraw money.
“They were the most horrible experiences of my life,” Mr Ghafoor said of the last week.
“It has been a horrible, horrible week… which ended up into safety for me, but not too many others.”
Mr Ghafoor, who remotely earned his Masters in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies from SOAS University of London, condemned the retreat of Western forces from his country.
“To the US, Nato, all the European countries – you guys badly failed the Afghan nation,” he said.
“Now, since you have made this mistake, it is your responsibility to take as many people as you can out of that country – out of the hands of the barbaric Taliban, who will start massacring.”