Refugee who fled to Yorkshire during first Taliban rule says she lives in constant fear her family will be killed

An Afghan refugee who fled to Yorkshire during the first Taliban rule says she is living in constant fear that her family will be killed.

Bahar, whose surname is undisclosed to protect her family, made the dangerous journey out of Afghanistan as a young teenager to escape "the same brutality we are seeing now".

She lost her father during the Russian regime of the 1980s, while her mother and three of her siblings were killed during the Taliban' s last rule.

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Bahar arrived in the UK in 1997, "heartbroken" and pregnant with her first child, and eventually settled in Leeds.

Bahar arrived in the UK in 1997, "heartbroken" and pregnant with her first child, and eventually settled in Leeds.

More than two decades later, Bahar has watched in horror as the Taliban take control of Kabul, fearing for her surviving family and many others left behind in Afghanistan.

“I had to leave to survive," Bahar, who believes she is 38, told the Yorkshire Evening Post. "If I stayed I probably wouldn’t be alive now, or I’d be married to one of [the Taliban]."

Bahar, who founded the Bahar Women's Association, has become a voice for the Afghan community in Leeds.

She said the community is "desperate" and many people have reached out to her, sharing her fear for the safety of their families.

Bahar has watched in horror as the Taliban take control of Kabul

At least 72 people were killed and more than 150 wounded in two blasts near Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport last week – where people have been gathering in their thousands to board flights away from the Taliban takeover.

Bahar added: “I became a strong fighter, but honestly, I have no energy and I don’t know if I can keep fighting. I cry every night.

“My family is in hiding, with no money and no food. I am scared for them because I’ve lost so many people from my family. I’m scared that the same thing will happen to them.

“I feel like I can’t help. And there’s no one who can help me. I don’t know what to do, and everyone is suffering.

"All of Afghanistan, everyone in my community in Leeds, they are all worried and crying, desperate to help and support their families and loved ones.”

The Home Office has announced that the UK is prepared to welcome 10,000 Afghan refugees during this year, and a total of 20,000 “in the long term”.

Bahar urged people in Leeds to welcome new refugees and make them feel at home, knowing better than anyone the suffering they are going through.

“It was really, really hard [when I arrived in Leeds]," Bahar said.

"Everything was strange and at the same time I was heartbroken - I’d lost my family, my country. I was still a teenager and I had pain in my chest. I was lost, I didn’t know who I was or what I was doing, or how I could go forward.

“I had no one to talk to, no one to ask why I came here and what happened to me. I was waiting for the right moment and the right person to come along and ask me one day, but there was nothing."

Determined to fight for her community and help others feel less alone, Bahar went to college and learnt English, before setting up Bahar Women's Association.

The organisation supports women and children in need and hosted a fundraiser earlier this month, cooking food to raise cash to help people in Afghanistan.

Bahar added: "I wanted to fight for girls and women because of what happened to my mother, my sister and other girls. They are all being punished for no reason, all their dreams being taken away.

"Someone needed to shout out for them."

After the unimaginable suffering Bahar had been through, she was met with hostility from some people in the city when she moved to Leeds.

And Bahar says she is not alone, with other refugees facing hate crime and Islamophobia on their doorsteps.

She has urged people in Leeds to support Afghans fleeing the country in any way they can; being advocates, writing letters to MPs, volunteering with refugee organisations or just providing a listening ear.

“Please welcome them and make them feel free, make them feel at home," Bahar said.

"Anything that you can do, as a responsible human, please do not hesitate. Where else can we escape to?

“When we go outside - there’s hate crime, there’s Islamophobia, there’s other racist words. There is positive and negative, and I don’t want to say it is everybody. I have lovely, supportive friends who are from British and Asian communities.

“But it’s still not enough. We need to respect asylum seekers for humanity, they’ve been through so much. In Afghanistan, people can’t go out, they don’t know if they will be alive next month.

“I hope our country, our city, will welcome refugees. Because I understand more than everyone what pain they are going through."