‘Toughest trip of my life’: Afghan family flee to UK | Afghanistan
Tn the day the Taliban arrived in Kabul, Dina * went to her office at the city courthouse as normal. It was deserted. “Only the cleaning lady was there,” recalls the 41-year-old Supreme Court judge. “The cleaner said: what are you doing here?” Go home!”
Dina gathered as many legal papers and personal documents as she could carry and returned to the four-story house she shared with her husband and three children. There she scanned the most important pieces of paper and burned everything on her roof terrace. It was painful to see the proof of everything she had worked so hard to ignite.
For 24 hours, she and her husband sat in front of their laptops, seeking refuge in 20 countries. Finally, they received an invitation from the United Kingdom, thanks to the intervention of the International Association of Women Judges. They packed a few small backpacks and left for the airport, wading through sewage to reach the terminal.
For three nights, they waited without food or water before boarding a military plane to take them to Dubai and Manchester. âIt was the most difficult trip of my life, but thank goodness we have made it here and are now safe and comfortable,â she says.
Six weeks later, Dina and her family are living in a hotel near Manchester Airport. She is one of six female judges to have made it to the UK so far. She knows how lucky she is to be alive, but mourns the life she left behind. She cries a lot – “My eyes are red all day long” – and avoids Facebook and Twitter, finding it too painful to see what is happening in Afghanistan.
On the day of the Guardian’s visit, she learned via a WhatsApp justice group that a judge in Afghanistan had been killed by the Taliban. âAll the judges are in danger, men and women,â she said. She urges the UK and other countries to provide safe passage for all Afghan judges, who are now being hunted down by freed Taliban prisoners whom they once sent to jail. Their families are also in danger. âSome women, their husbands have been arrested by the Taliban. Some of their brothers have been arrested.
She has no money, having tried unsuccessfully to withdraw her savings before going to Kabul airport on August 25.
Her family arrived in the UK with basic summer clothes and now wear outfits donated by members of the public through the charity Care4Calais. She is wearing a sequined top and an emerald silk scarf with delicate rainbow-colored stripes, covering her hair in the common areas but letting it drop when we enter her room.
The scarf is the only luxury she brought home from home and she wears it with pride. She takes advantage of the colder weather, explaining that as a Muslim woman, she is expected to cover her arms and legs, which can be sweltering in the summer in Kabul but comfortable during a Mancunian fall.
She is keen on being a good host, brewing green tea and offering a random selection of treats donated by local charities, including a packet of Locket throat lozenges. She wants to explore Manchester, having so far only managed one family outing to the city, where her children were delighted to board a double-decker bus.
She still dreams of being back in court. âI really liked my job. I loved my job, âshe says. In the 1990s, her family moved from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan to Pakistan so that Dina and her sisters could go to school. They returned in 2004 and she worked for a domestic violence conflict mediation charity before studying both Sharia and international law.
Dina never planned to leave Afghanistan. In 2012, she was granted a visa for training in Virginia and her colleagues urged her to apply for asylum and not return. âBut I told them I won’t escape; I don’t want to leave my country. At that time, my first baby was born. He was nine months old and wanted to come back.
She doesn’t know how long her family will be staying at the hotel. âThe Home Office didn’t tell us when we would be leaving here,â she said, âbut we are the happiest and luckiest family. We are safe and we are safe.
*Dina’s name has been changed to protect her identity