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Saturday, 3 November, 2001, 08:26 GMT
Afghan refugee's escape ordeal
Khalilullah fears for the family he left behind
As the bombardments of Afghanistan continues, Afghans are more desperate than ever to escape their country. BBC News Online's Marcus George speaks to a refugee recently smuggled into the UK.

When I met Khalilullah he had just parted with several precious asylum-seeker vouchers and was limping back along the road towards his temporary home - a bare terraced house room in one of Southampton's less glamorous neighbourhoods.

Born in Kabul in the same year as the Soviet invasion, Khalilullah has only known an Afghanistan ravaged by war, a war which he experienced first hand when a stray bullet wounded him.

An ethnic Pashtun from Kabul, 22-year-old Khalilullah waved goodbye to his mother, father and two brothers 10 weeks ago. He hoped he would finally reach the UK to start a new life.

Khalilullah painting on a dock
Khalilullah's journey cost $12,000

The trip, arranged by a human trafficking ring, cost his family more than $12,000. He says it was a small price to pay to escape the war.

But the journey was perilous.

"The lorry journey [to Dover] took a night and a day. I was squashed into a hole above the lorry's rear axle as it travelled throughout the whole night. I was curled in this small area and I feared falling down under the wheels."

His eventual discovery by security staff at Dover marked the end point of a 16-day smuggling pipeline which took him in and out of anonymous countries.

"I never knew where I was. I often asked but the smugglers never answered me," he said. The strains of the ordeal were painfully evident on his face.

Khalilullah had been taken across the border to Peshawar, a sprawling city in the north of Pakistan. After a few days he was taken to another city and shuttled onto an aeroplane towards the West.

"I was accompanied by one of the smugglers. He told me not to speak when we went through passport control."

He remained a prisoner of the smugglers as he was shepherded across Europe. At night he was confined. His traffickers always refused to speak to him and he travelled in fear until the September day when he arrived in the UK.


"Security men knocked on the side of the lorry in Dover. Not knowing what to do, we got out. We stood on the side of the road for about five minutes before the police came and arrested us."

Along with his fellow passengers, Khalilullah was sent to an immigration detention centre for one week. Eventually he was transferred to Southampton and put up in a house with six other Afghans.

When peace finally comes to Afghanistan I will return to my homeland

Seven weeks later, the young Afghan is in the process of claiming asylum in the UK and feels less overwhelmed by his alien surroundings.

But his misgivings about leaving his family in Afghanistan have deepened.

The attacks on the US happened a week before he arrived in Britain. Then came the bombing of Afghanistan.

"I have not heard from my family since I have been in Britain," Khalilullah said.

"Since the new war with America started I have no information about where they are. I have not received any letters. I just don't know what has happened to them.

"If they stay in Kabul there is war. And if they come to Jalalabad there are bombs too. All I can do is say prayers for them."

Art lover

Khalilullah was once an art student in Kabul. He showed me several of his paintings, detailing Kabul's landmarks. Incredibly, he had carried them with him on his journey.

His college closed down several years ago. After that, there was nothing for him to do but remain at home.

Khalilullah was injured two years ago when a rocket exploded nearby, sending shrapnel deep into his lower left leg.

The basic medical infrastructure in Afghanistan could do little for him. He now wears a leg brace and suffers constant, severe pain.

Painting of palace in Kabul
Khalilullah brought his paintings with him
"Even if I am allowed to stay in the UK, I cannot work," he said. "I can't walk for more than five minutes and I'm always in pain."

But he may receive an operation in the UK, which he hopes will alleviate some of his suffering.

Meanwhile, he spends his time dreaming of the day when he can return to his beloved painting and learn English.

"I am always in this house," he said. "There is nothing for me to do. I'm always waiting, just waiting."

Despite his debilitating injury, Khalilullah knows he is one of the lucky ones. His father, a businessman in Kabul, owned a transport businesses and his family live in a large house in one of Kabul's safer neighbourhoods.

"But then war came to Afghanistan our business was destroyed. Customs officials took business from us and the markets and shops were looted."

But then comes an outburst of hope.

"When peace finally comes to Afghanistan I will return to my homeland," Khalilullah said. "And I long to see my family. Without my family, my life is not complete. When the time comes I will return and, hopefully, all Afghans will do the same."

See also:

28 Oct 01 | South Asia
UN plea on Afghan refugees
22 Oct 01 | Business
Pakistan counts cost of war
22 Oct 01 | South Asia
In pictures: Afghan refugees' plight
21 Oct 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
A refugee's ordeal
21 Oct 01 | South Asia
Chaman's queue of despair
23 Oct 01 | Education
Afghan girls' second chance
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