IT’S been a truly heartbreaking week, witnessing those awful scenes of Afghans trying to clamber on to the aircraft leaving Kabul.
I know their desperation only too well. In 1999 I managed to flee the city for the UK as a refugee.
It’s because of this country’s kindness that I’m where I am today, writes Dr Waheed Arian[/caption]
Aged 15, I arrived with just £80 in my pocket and the dream of making a difference. I made it to Cambridge University and then became an emergency medicine doctor with the NHS.
The refugees you see piling on to planes now are just like me, harbouring the same dreams of a better life. It’s because of this country’s kindness that I’m where I am today.
The UK gave me a future, a job, security and an education. It’s why I hope Britain shows the same compassion to these desperate souls that I was offered in the Nineties.
So I welcome the Government’s pledge to take 20,000 Afghan refugees over the next five years. It is a fantastic step in the right direction — but the numbers aren’t nearly enough.
In five years there will be many thousands of deaths from the civil war that is likely to unfold in Afghanistan. The UK offered the same number of asylum places to Syrian refugees.
But the population of Afghanistan is more than double that of Syria. The Government needs to increase the numbers and accept that a lot of the incoming refugees will try to get into this country via irregular routes.
Most read in The Sun
Read our Afghanistan live blog for the latest updates
Parents are so fearful for their children’s lives that they will take whatever route they can to get them out of Afghanistan and away from civil war.
Imagine how unsafe you must feel to put your trust in a stranger and send your child away, alone, to a foreign country and with no support system.
Afghans do not have five years to wait for official channels. Too many will be dead by the time their turn comes around. I’ve found the news from Afghanistan in recent weeks very distressing.
It brought back the horrors of the civil war of the Nineties, when my family was forced to shelter in cellars in an attempt to dodge the falling rockets.
Most read in News
I was five, and fighting between the Soviet-backed communist government and Muslim fighters known as the mujahideen was raging. We decided escape was the only option — through the mountainous Khyber Pass to Pakistan.
After a seven-day journey we made it to a refugee camp, where my family of ten were given one small room, which we stayed in for three years. It was there I contracted a potentially fatal combination of tuberculosis and malaria.
But it was in the camp that I developed my dream of becoming a doctor. We eventually returned to Afghanistan in 1989, but the country was plagued with civil conflict.
My family sold many of their possessions in order to send me to the UK to grant me a future away from war. It took me two years to get out of Afghanistan. I was scarred with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety that took me years to overcome because of what I experienced.
My ambition was always to be a doctor. I’d seen so much suffering and wanted to make a difference.
I was lucky enough to study at Cambridge and complete medical school. On graduating I had two aims. I wanted to give back to the generous country that took me in and help the country I was born in.
So I became an emergency medicine doctor for the NHS and in 2015 set up the charity Arian Teleheal. It virtually connects British doctors with medics in war-torn countries.
The 100 UK medics who volunteer their time have helped save hundreds of lives across the world. From blast injuries sustained in Afghanistan, to advising on treatment for Indian Covid victims, the global nature of Teleheal means ward rounds don’t have to happen in person.
We can’t physically be in every ward or operating theatre, but collectively, the medics who volunteer their time have hundreds of years of expertise in their fields.
We hear a lot of talk about a global community and the world getting smaller — Teleheal is an example of that. It’s about medics ignoring borders and helping each other on a global scale and I’m very proud of what we have achieved so far.
My colleagues in Kabul tell me things are very difficult now. My two children have never met their grandfather, and I’d hoped beyond everything they might get to visit Afghanistan soon to meet their cousins and aunties.
While that won’t happen now, we have to keep banging the drum for peace. And we need aid, humanitarian efforts and tolerance towards refugees.
We need to speed up the official asylum routes so people who fear daily for their lives and safety aren’t resorting to smugglers. Britain welcomed me and saved my life. I hope I’ve given back as an NHS doctor — a career I love.
There are many, many more Afghans like me.