I feel “human for the first time” in my life, said a gay Afghan man after arriving in the UK with 28 other members of the LGBT community.
The man – whom the BBC does not name for security reasons – fled Afghanistan, fearing for his life under the Taliban.
The hardline Islamist group returned to power in August after US-led troops left at the end of a 20-year presence.
On Friday, a Taliban spokesman told Reuters news agency that the group will not respect gay rights.
“Everything collapsed after the fall of Kabul,” the man told the BBC. “I was very depressed. I was counting my days to die.
“I too was a stranger in my home and in my bed. I felt like a stranger in my hometown of Kabul.”
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The return of the Taliban sparked a mass exodus of people who believed they were in danger if they stayed, including people who worked closely with the United States and its allies, and a number of high-profile women.
Members of the LGBT community are also trying to leave, unsure of their future under the Taliban. The last time the group was in power, between 1996 and 2001, gay men were stoned to death.
The community did not live openly for the next 20 years: like many, the man interviewed by the BBC has a wife and child.
“LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex] The community was a secret underground community, but we knew each other and our network, and if one of us was arrested, they could have found the rest of us, “he told the BBC.
“Kabul is not a big city, and with the way the Taliban run the country, it wasn’t that hard to find high-profile LGBTI people. We also heard that a couple of people were arrested.”
The man’s escape was only possible with the help of international LGBT organizations. A first attempt at evacuation flights from Kabul airport – overcoming the “terrible” Taliban guards – failed.
But almost two months later, after arriving in a third country awaiting a visa, the man arrived in the UK.
Officials explained that the British foreign minister and British and Canadian organizations Stonewall and Rainbow Railroad stepped in to help the first 29 people.
More members of the Afghan LGBT community are expected to leave in the coming months.
Their arrival comes as a spokesperson for the Afghan finance minister said human rights will be respected under Islamic law, but not gay rights. “LGBT … This is against our Sharia law,” Ahmad Wali Haqmal said.
For refugees it is the beginning of a new life.
“Britain is a new home for me,” says the man. “Everything is new to me here. A new lifestyle, a new language and culture. I’m a little nervous about my future and I’m trying to figure out where to start my new life, but man, I feel safe and free!
“This is incredible.”
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