Sri Lankans stranded in Afghanistan are claiming that the Sri Lankan Government has ignored their pleas to be evacuated back home. Earlier it was reported that some 20 plus Lankans had opted to stay back in their jobs in security detail with the United Nations in Afghanistan. However, when the Sunday Times spoke to some [...]


Lankans in Afghanistan say Govt ignoring evacuation pleas; ambassador denies charge


Sri Lankans stranded in Afghanistan are claiming that the Sri Lankan Government has ignored their pleas to be evacuated back home.

Earlier it was reported that some 20 plus Lankans had opted to stay back in their jobs in security detail with the United Nations in Afghanistan. However, when the Sunday Times spoke to some of these Sri Lankans, they related a different story.

“We didn’t ‘decide’ to stay back,” said one Sri Lankan. He claims that when Kabul fell, it became too dangerous for them to go out. The protection assured by the Taliban to the UN and by the UN to its employees does not extend beyond the confines of the camp they are in.

The female Afghan journalist interviewed for this article took this while on a picnic with her family just two days before Kabul fell. She says such outings are unthinkable under Taliban rule

“Since the embassy here is closed and the ambassador is no longer here, the UN won’t release us even to go to the airport without being accompanied by a responsible government official because it’s too dangerous outside,” he said.

He added that the UN would permit the employees to leave only if an embassy official turned up at the camp with a proper evacuation plan.

They were given the option of joining the evacuation operation that Pakistan and India implemented within two days of the fall of Kabul. But they could not make it because they were told they would need to find $ 1500 to pay for their flight home within two days.

“Our salaries go to our accounts in Sri Lanka directly. We only keep some cash in hand to meet our day-to-day requirements. So how are we to find a sum that large or even get it transferred here from home so soon?” he asked.

He said they were not in a position to abandon their posts immediately even if they had the money. He noted that the security detail consisted entirely of ex-military men who stood their ground when Kabul fell and did not run away. “We want the Sri Lankan Government to help us now,” said the source whose children are now back in Sri Lanka.

He also dismissed claims that they were in Kabul by choice. “This is not true and has caused a lot of family issues for us because my family thinks I don’t want to come back.”

Similar sentiments were echoed by another Sri Lankan who did not want
to be identified. He noted that immediate departure was not an option as there were contractual obligations to be fulfilled.

He charged that Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry made no attempts to organise safe passage to the airport. “There is no law enforcement and one accidental trigger squeeze could cost us our lives — if we can’t even go to our embassy, how can we go to the airport?” he asked, recalling the frantic scenes of thousands of Afghans flocking to the Kabul airport to flee the country and the twin bomb blasts that killed more than 170 Afghans and 13 US military personnel last week.

As regard the UN protection, the UN only gave them a verbal assurance, he said, adding that according to UN officials, the letters assuring their security were stuck in Geneva pending approval.

He also noted that some of his colleagues wanted to stay on purely for financial reasons. “They would rather risk their lives here and put food on the table than starve at home.” He added that if he could leave immediately, he would. “We have many commitments and we bring revenue to the country – we have done our service to the country.”

Those who want to go back have expressed their willingness to the Foreign Ministry. The group is currently being coordinated by a foreign ministry official, who, the Sunday Times was told, was too sick to give an interview.

In Colombo, Admiral (Rtd) Piyal de Silva, who was Sri Lanka’s ambassador in Afghanistan at the time of the Taliban takeover, said, “I have written to the UN authorities employing this group and am awaiting a response with regard to the action plan for the Sri Lankans.”

He, however, said that it appeared to him that some of the Sri Lankans were not so keen to return.

They had been sent forms to fill in if they wished to be evacuated but none of them had done so, he said. “Since they had come there under employment contracts with various firms, I need their consent and signatures before I can process evacuation plans, but they have not sent their documents back to me, expressing their consent in writing, though some had verbally expressed their wish to be evacuated,” Admiral de Silva claimed. He said he believed the Government had done everything possible to help them.

Most Sri Lankans employed there do not want to lose their jobs. But those who wished to had paid for their ticket and left their posts after handing in their resignation, the ambassador said, adding that most of them were observing the situation in the hope that it would improve.

“If they were being kept there against their wishes, their families would be calling us demanding that they be brought back. But I haven’t received a single phone call,” said the Ambassador, stressing that he had been in regular contact with all the Sri Lankans in Afghanistan until August 27.

The Sri Lankans who wish to leave include those working for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). Flights in and out of Kabul have stopped following the complete withdrawal of US troops on August 30.

The situation, meanwhile, continues to be volatile. A young female journalist currently living in Afghanistan told the Sunday Times that different Taliban factions had become a law unto themselves. She said the Taliban groups such as the Haqqani Network, Lakshar-e Toiba, Teherik-e Taliban or Pakistan Taliban,  Jaish-e Mohammad, and Punjabi militants, are harsh on women and therefore going outside was completely out of the question.

She said NGOs and establishments that had employed women had given them permission to work from home if they feared for their safety.

“It is hard to believe how quickly the situation has changed,” she said. Censorship of the media had begun. Posting opinions against the Taliban was an invitation for attacks. Popular TV channels like TrueNews are not allowed to let women present news.

“We feel like we are back to where we were 20 years ago, with our hard-won freedom gone just like that?” she said. Two days before Kabul fell she had gone out on a picnic with her family and taken some pictures( See picture). Such photography was not possible now, she said.

She lives with her family and is hoping to get approved for a P2 Program opportunity so she could migrate with her family.

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