Australia

‘Big pain in my heart’: Former Afghan interpreter for Australia escapes Kabul but leaves family behind

An Afghan who worked as an interpreter for Australian forces says he avoided Taliban gunfire at Kabul airport on his escape from Afghanistan, but feels guilt for leaving some family members behind.

The man, who SBS News has not identified to protect his family’s safety, was among the 26 people evacuated on Wednesday morning from Kabul on Australia’s first rescue flight. His wife and newborn child were also on board.

He said he was “so happy” to head to Australia to start a new life but he was worried for loved ones who couldn’t make it out with him, including his parents and siblings.

“They cried about me (when I left) and I had no option – I can’t stay anymore, survive anymore,” he told SBS News from Australia’s Al Minhad airbase in the United Arab Emirates, where he was being processed.

The former interpreter, who served with Australian forces in 2018, said he felt anxious at the prospect of Taliban attacks against his family. The Taliban view Afghans who worked with foreign forces as traitors.

“It makes me upset (when) I think of the Taliban violence (that) can affect them,” he said.

“I’m sure they cannot do anything about it because I have left. There are no words, but I have a big pain in my heart.”

The former interpreter said just trying to get to the Kabul airport was a big risk because of constant Taliban gunfire surrounding it.

The line at Kabul airport on Tuesday night

Supplied

He said several people were injured while he was there, including him, and Australian officials did their best to help people during the fracas.

“Every two to three minutes the Taliban tried to use their rifles, gunfire all the time,” he said.

“You can see my hand been bleed because the Taliban been pushing people (sic). They’re starting gunfire all the time, trying to push out the people from the entrance gate.

“It’s dangerous because of the rush. I even saw kids falling under people’s feet … people went on and then put feet on their face and stuff.”

‘Just watch out for me’

Four other former Australian Defence Force interpreters who escaped Kabul on a separate British flight on Wednesday night with 72 others also described scenes of chaos and violence at the airport.

Voice messages in Dari traded by the four interpreters at Kabul airport, obtained by SBS News, illustrated their precarious journey from the airport line, where thousands of people had queued to escape, to the tarmac.

In one message, an interpreter named Najib alerts his colleagues to quickly head to the airport to get on an evacuation flight.

“We have the officers of foreign affairs, immigration and four Aussie soldiers, they are doing a great job. They got us in. We are in a secure location now. They told me (to go) out to recognise my colleagues now,” he said.

Najib then tells the others to look out for a glow stick he would wave to signify his location, amid the sound of gunfire in the background.

“I’ll shine this light, I’ll raise it in the air, just watch out for me, brothers,” he said.

The glow stick shone by an interpreter to his mates waiting in line at Kabul airport

The glow stick shone by an interpreter to his mates waiting in line at Kabul airport

Supplied

Another former interpreter, Rafiq, tells the others who hadn’t yet got to the airport not to worry as they wouldn’t depart without them.

“Brothers, no problem. Until we’re all here, we’ll tell [the soldiers] that some of our people have been left behind,” he said.

One of the interpreters who hadn’t yet arrived at the airport urges the others to wait for him.

“Friends, I’m on the way, are you inside or still waiting in line? Please let me know,” he said.

After he and the others were evacuated to the Al Minhad airbase, Rafiq told SBS News he wasn’t sure where he had been taken to.

“I think I am in Sharjah,” he said, referring to the UAE city, “in some kind of camp”.

All five interpreters are set to depart the airbase and arrive in Perth shortly, where they will undergo hotel quarantine before starting their new lives.

Some names have been changed to protect identities.

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