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Afghan staff of UK charity settle in Scotland after fleeing Taliban

·4-min read

A woman who helped educate girls in Afghanistan has told how she covered her 10-month-old baby’s ears to block out gunfire as she fled the Taliban.

Frishta Matan, 29, and her sister Farzana, 25, worked for Scottish charity The Linda Norgrove Foundation, helping women and girls in the war-torn country.

Multiple attempts to escape the Taliban with their family failed, with the terrified group being repeatedly turned back from Kabul airport and missing the last flights out.

With the help of American charity Uplift Afghanistan Fund and British embassy staff in Qatar, the family were finally evacuated and have made a new life in Scotland.

Frishta and her family leaving Afghanistan
Frishta and her family leaving Afghanistan (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office/PA)

Frishta and Farzana had been desperate to escape as their work with the Linda Norgrove Foundation made them a target for the Taliban.

The charity was set up by the parents of the Scots aid worker who died in an attempted rescue by US forces in 2010.

Frishta said working in women and girls’ education caused “a big problem” for her and her sister.

“Lots of men bore a grudge and were ready to take revenge by telling the Taliban we had worked with foreigners and were un-Islamic,” she said.

The charity worker was forced to risk the chaos at Kabul airport to flee the Taliban with her sister, her brother Zaker, her husband Murtaza, and her son Kia.

“We spent two days and two nights at the airport, and all you could hear was constant gunfire,” she said.

“Usually when my baby is sleeping at night no-one is allowed to talk, but in this situation there was constant firing and loud sounds.

“That whole night, I tried to put my hands over Kia’s ears to stop him hearing the noise of shooting and people crying and shouting.

“The army was shooting in front of people’s feet to try and scare the big crowds away from the gate, but they were not deterred.

“We saw this one person get closer and closer until they shot him and he fell dead in the street.”

During the Afghanistan evacuation an Isis-K bomb killed 13 American troops and at least 169 civilians at the airport, and the family feared they would be caught in a follow-up attack.

Sitting on the bus to the airport, Frishta said the gunfire got “louder and louder” and she feared it was her “last moment alive”.

Having failed to get onto a flight, the family eventually had to go into hiding north of Kabul.

Frishta said: “Taliban soldiers would come in and arrest people and take them away. We never knew if they were coming for us and changed location eight or nine times to avoid them.”

The family arrived on the Isle of Lewis on Tuesday and were met by the founders of the Linda Norgrove charity, John and Lorna Norgrove.

Mr Norgrove said: “It was one of the best phone calls of my life when we finally heard they’d got out.

“That 46 hours they were at the airport was traumatic.

“We were communicating using voice notes on WhatsApp and in their messages all you could hear was constant gunfire in the background. You realised how dangerous a position they were in.”

Frishta said she is now grateful for the peace found in Scotland.

“We have heard that Scotland is cold and rainy… but it is peaceful,” she said.

“We’d rather deal with the rain in Scotland than the Taliban in Afghanistan.”

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said: “I am very pleased that the UK Government was able to play its part in helping evacuate Frishta, Farzana and their family to safety from Afghanistan.

“It must be a tremendous relief, not just for them, but also for John and Lorna Norgrove.

“I want to thank all of those in the UK, the US, Afghanistan and Qatar who worked so tirelessly to make their safe passage possible.

“I’m sure that the sisters and their family will be warmly welcomed in Scotland, and we will do all we can to support them in building a new, secure life in the UK.”

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