"It's like an awful dream I'm hoping to wake up from"

An incredibly brave Afghan businesswoman and political activist has shared her terrifying experience of being evacuated from Afghanistan after the Taliban seized power of the country a fortnight ago.
Hassina Syed in Kabul during her rescue.Hassina Syed in Kabul during her rescue.
Hassina Syed in Kabul during her rescue.

Hassina Syed is married to former video journalist husband Peter Jouvenal, whom she met while he was working in Afghanistan. The couple settled in the UK in 2002 and now live in a village near Horncastle with their three daughters.

She works in and around Kabul as a political activist and is an advocate for women’s rights.

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Hassina is bravely telling us her story as she believes the world needs to know what is happening in her country:

Hassina Syed was evacuated from Kabul in a military plane.Hassina Syed was evacuated from Kabul in a military plane.
Hassina Syed was evacuated from Kabul in a military plane.

“People need to see and hear about what the Afghan people are suffering and going through.

“You can be so happy one minute, and then the next it can all disappear.

“No-one ever thought that this would happen so soon, the way they took over the whole country in just nine days, it’s like they were superhuman.”

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When the country fell, Hassima was working in the city of Kabul and was in a car with her assistant when she received a call to say the Taliban were coming, but not to worry as they wouldn’t manage to hit the northern side of the country.

Hassina with Louth & Horncastle MP Victoria Atkins.Hassina with Louth & Horncastle MP Victoria Atkins.
Hassina with Louth & Horncastle MP Victoria Atkins.

But then soon after, she received another call saying to take her bags and run, as they had already taken the north side and were coming.

“I thought it can’t be true, but just half an hour later, there was panic everywhere and people were running and leaving their cars to run, it was terrifying,” she recalled.

“It was like the end of your life, if this ever happened and they (the Taliban) came, you thought they would target you and I just thought “this is it then”.”

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Hassima called everyone she knew in the area and, fearing for her assistant’s safety, told him to run and she would find someone to come and rescue her:

“He’d been working for 32 years and I didn’t want any harm to come to him because of me, so I told him to go and run and I’d get someone to come and get me,” she explained.

Peter said he was so worried for Hassina, as he was at home with their daughters at the time when the Taliban took over.

Eventually, Hassina managed to reach her cousin who took her in his car back to his house, where she was able to speak to her husband Peter who set about trying to get her evacuated.

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What made the situation tricky is that Hassina doesn’t have a UK passport and Peter spent days trying to contact the Foreign Office for help, and he was apparently told he would need to fly to Afghanistan to arrange for her return to the UK, but not before passing a Covid-19 test.

But with the help and negotiations of Louth and Horncastle MP Victoria Atkins, Hassina managed to safely make it to a UK army base where the soldiers there helped to make arrangements for her to be flown home on a military plane.

“We’re so grateful to Victoria for all her help, she’s been amazing all of my life here in the UK and she was so helpful,” Hassina said.

“It’s because of her I managed to get here.”

Hassina flew to Dubai, then on to Greece where the plane was refueled, and then finally to Birmingham International Airport on Tuesday night (August 17).

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She is now safely in quarantine at a hotel, and when her ten-day quarantine is up, she will be reunited with her family on Wednesday (August 25).

Speaking now from her hotel room, Hassina said that her fellow Afghan countrymen are in complete shock that this has happened and at the speed at which it all panned out:

“No-one ever thought that this would happen in our lifetime,” she said, “We were so relieved when everything happened in 2001 and the new, freer-thinking generation came in, but then suddenly this happened and everything was over, it’s like an awful dream I’m hoping to wake up from.”

Hassina had to leave her whole family behind in Kabul when she was evacuated, and now she said she’s so worried about the safety of her mother, brother, sister and extended family, who are currently in hiding:

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“I honestly don’t know what to do for them,” she said emotionally, “Everyone knows about them as I’m a prominent person in Afghanistan and I’ve had to leave them behind.

“If something happened to them I’d never forgive myself.”

Hassina has extended her heartfelt thanks to the UK Government for facilitating her evacuation to the UK and to the refugees they have helped from Afghanistan:

“Most of them don’t have passports or any documents and they’ve been doing so much to help so many people.

“Our president just ran away and because the UK government has been so helpful and given the people so much support, it just shows that our government is not enough.”

The Foreign Office has been approached for comment.