The Guardian: ‘Monsters at the door’: migrant workers trapped in UN Afghan compound

Security contractors among hundreds from the Philippines, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka stuck without clear plans for evacuation

When Taliban fighters started to kick at the door of a UN compound in a northern province 250 miles (400km) from the Afghan capital, Kabul, Rajesh* was certain he was going to be killed

The Taliban had taken control of the area on that day. Rajesh, a UN security contractor from India, hurried with his colleagues into an emergency steel-doored room. Before they sealed themselves in, they saw a group of seven or eight heavily armed men.

“They had assault rifles and what looked like a suicide vest,” said Rajesh. “We thought we were going to die.”

Rajesh had been desperate to return to India, but the drive to Kabul was dangerous. Along with 13 other migrant workers, he has now become stranded in the mostly abandoned compound after missing the evacuation deadline.

“I just want to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible,” he said. “It is chaos, and the highways are controlled by the Taliban. There are so many checkpoints. Nobody can reach Kabul by the highways; there is a definite risk for the foreigners.”

Those in the UN compound are among hundreds of Asian migrant workers from countries such as the Philippines, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka stranded in Afghanistan, according to figures released by their respective governments. It is unclear how any of them will be able to leave.

After the Taliban were unable to breach the UN compound on their first attempt, they came back the next day. A security officer opened the gate and negotiated with the soldiers, who demanded to inspect the compound.

“Four Taliban guys got into the bunker,” said Edward*, a security contractor from the Philippines. “I was terribly scared. I cannot explain how I was feeling. It was a trauma.”

The Taliban then stationed soldiers at the gates of the compound.

Rajesh said: “As of now, the Taliban have assured us they will not harm us. But we cannot trust this. We still have a sense of fear. Anything can happen to us.

“The situation can turn anytime here. If there is a monster at your door, how can you remain calm?”

The workers have been in regular contact with their embassies, the UN and their employer.

“The UN says there are [evacuation] plans if the situation deteriorates, but they are not telling us what they are,” said Rajesh.

Afghans fleeing their country are evacuated from Kabul airport after the Taliban take control of the city.

The workers have been calling their worried families at home every day and trying to keep their composure, but the atmosphere has been tense. Some have been overcome with panic, but the group do not want to antagonise the Taliban guards.

“Some guys are losing it, as in sometimes they just lose their temper and start shouting things like: ‘what the hell is happening? Why did we come here?’ But we are just trying to keep everybody calm,” said Rajesh.

The UN did not respond to requests for comment.

Names have been changed to protect identities

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