Targeted by Taliban, Evacuated to the UK: Naikmal’s Story
When the Taliban took back control of Afghanistan in August 2021 following President Biden’s withdrawal of US troops, Naikmal knew he had to run.
His work for a women’s reproductive health NGO made him a target, as it opposed Taliban values. Escaping to the UK on a British military plane with his wife and four children, he arrived in as an asylum-seeker having left almost everything behind.
We had the chance to speak to Naikmal about his incredible story, and his new life in the UK working as a World Jewish Relief employment advisor for Afghan refugees.
“The Taliban think that if you are associated with a foreign government then you are an enemy.”
He was the CEO of a women’s reproductive health NGO, which was linked to a UK-based organisation. Although the Taliban promised not to interrupt the work of such organisations, women’s reproductive health is considered controversial and against their values. He told us there were many times he had defied their orders, continuing to deliver vital services to poor, marginalised communities throughout Afghanistan. This left Naikmal in Taliban crosshairs, along with his family. People who still work for the NGO are trying to provide these important services, but are extremely limited in how they can help; contraceptives and family planning are now completely banned.
“I came to the UK on August 24th, 2021, after I was evacuated from Afghanistan by military plane.”
Due to the perilous conditions Naikmal found himself in, it was imperative he got his family away from Afghanistan. He was evacuated to London by British military plane along with his wife and four children. After 15 days of quarantine, he was finally taken to a hotel in the midlands where he lived for five long months alongside other displaced people.
For some of us, a hotel might sound like a relaxing break. But after five months, it starts to represent stagnation, a barrier to starting your new life. Unfortunately asylum seekers are not allowed to work in the UK until they are granted asylum and refugee status, and applications may be considered for many months. Even after refugee status is obtained, employers may require a permanent address, and landlords in turn, require proof of full-time employment. This catch 22 hinders the progress of many refugees looking to move forward with their lives.
“I needed someone to push me. As soon as you know there is someone supporting you and you can depend on that support, you feel motivated and can move forward.”
Fortunately for Naikmal, he had been awarded a Chevening scholarship to attend university in the UK even before the Taliban took control. So, when he arrived, he was able to attend University, studying for an MSc in health and social care. But he still needed to find employment. One of our employment advisors from our Specialist Training and Employment Programme (STEP) approached Naikmal, and began working with him to improve his English, CV writing skills, and understanding of the local job market.
To be honest I wasn’t willing to engage much at first but, after a bit, it was proving to be very beneficial so I tried to engage more.
After a few months of our support, Naikmal picked up a traineeship with a healthcare organisation. Soon after, a vacancy for a STEP advisor came up. Naikmal jumped at it. He now uses his personal and professional experience to help Afghan refugees going through the same struggles he faced when he first arrived here in the UK.
“I am 95% settled in this community and have started a normal life here.”
Naikmal and his family found it difficult to adapt at first. Their mental health deteriorated rapidly. Since moving into private accommodation however, their quality of life has improved dramatically. His children are at school, and they have managed to build friendships quickly. They live in a strong Afghan community, which has helped them to integrate and feel a sense of belonging.
His job as a STEP employment advisor is fulfilling, and he believes his story could inspire clients who are experiencing the same feelings of loss and hopelessness.
“Satisfaction is helping others, knowing you’ve made a small positive change on the life of another person.”
Naikmal understands he is likely to be in the UK for a long time, unable to return to Afghanistan. After completing his short-term goals, such as finding employment and finishing his studies, he is looking to the future. He wants to set up his own NGO, which supports members of his community.
“I have unfinished business in Afghanistan, my family, my parents, sister, brother are all still there.”
But despite the success of his new life in England, he is constantly worried about his family back home. His parents are elderly, and the restrictions put in place by the Taliban prevent them receiving help. It is a constant black cloud looming over him, weighing him down. He hopes they will be reunited soon.