British citizens describe ‘immensely lucky’ escape from Afghanistan

British citizens who fled Afghanistan this week have said they feel “immensely lucky” to have escaped the nation as Afghan families still strive to find a way out after the Taliban takeover.

Kitty Chevallier, a charity worker from Basingstoke, Hampshire, left Kabul via a UK evacuation flight on Monday morning – sharing photographs of people packed on to an RAF cargo plane.

The 24-year-old had been working in the capital since September 2020 with Afghanaid, a UK-registered charity that champions women’s rights and provides clean water and sanitation for Afghans.

“As we drove there at 4am, the runways were crowded with hundreds of Afghan families hoping to get out somehow,” she told the PA news agency.

Kitty Chevallier said she was ‘immensely lucky’ to board a flight early on Monday morning (Kitty Chevallier)
Kitty Chevallier said she was ‘immensely lucky’ to board a flight early on Monday morning (Kitty Chevallier)

“I’m very aware how immensely lucky I was to get helped out of the country.

“One of the strangest moments was getting on the plane, not knowing when we’d be able to come back or what the city would look and feel like when we did.”

Ms Chevallier praised the handling of her evacuation, adding that soldiers who processed her were all “patient, helpful and reassuring”.

She said it feels “bizarre” to now be out of Afghanistan and said she is still in contact with several friends and colleagues stranded in the nation.

“Which is of course nerve-wracking,” she added.

“I’ve been doing what I can to help arrange their departure, where that has been possible, and I’ve been encouraged to see that most of them have now been given the opportunity to leave on a UN flight tomorrow.

“However… the real tragedy is being in touch with Afghan colleagues and friends, for whom the chances of leaving the country are far, far smaller, and who have so much more to lose.

“The eligibility criteria for the resettlement schemes currently available are really tight… but we are providing whatever support and advocacy we can – we’re going to keep trying.”

Ms Chevallier has been working in Kabul since September (Kitty Chevallier)
Ms Chevallier has been working in Kabul since September (Kitty Chevallier)

It is feared those who worked with Western authorities or organisations could be at greater risk of reprisals from the Taliban, though the group has initially denied this will be the case.

“The messages we’ve been hearing from the Taliban, including in the provinces where we run projects, are encouraging and makes it sound as though there will not be any danger from them,” Ms Chevallier said.

“But meanwhile, I’ve heard multiple examples of aid workers receiving threatening messages, even death threats – so they are obviously very scared.”

Ms Chevallier called on the UK to “increase, not cut” aid going to Afghanistan and said criteria allowing people to return to the UK need to be urgently expanded “to include aid workers and civil society activists, especially women”.

“We must not forget Afghanistan… the news stories will probably dry up before long, but our support must not,” she said.

Jack, from Birmingham, whose name has been changed to protect his family still in Afghanistan, also left the nation by a British military plane this week.

“It was strange and frightening… I was sad departing my native country the way I had to,” the 27-year-old Afghan-born British citizen told PA.

“(We) waited in a building around 12 hours before being transported to the airport… it was difficult like waiting, security, hunger.

“(Most) of those fleeing had to sit on the plane’s rough floor but overall it was worth it – I am extremely thankful.

“Family and friends are (still) there. It was tough not being able to say goodbye.”