Duke of Cambridge visits Leeds hotel temporarily housing Afghan refugees evacuated to the UK after Taliban takeover
- Prince William, 39, travelled to Leeds to visit refugee families from Afghanistan
- Duke of Cambridge chatted with Afghan refugees about their experiences
- Royal visited region to celebrate work of community in welcoming refugees
- Comes amid row between Royal Family and BBC in wake of a new documentary
The Duke of Cambridge today praised the bravery of Afghan refugees who risked their lives to work for the British Government and military as they embark on the ‘traumatic’ process of starting new lives in the UK.
William was visiting Leeds to celebrate the resilient communities across the region who have come together to support those in need.
His first stop was a local hotel, which cannot be named for security reasons. which is being used to accommodate refugees evacuated this autumn from Kabul after the Taliban took over.
He told families who had been forced to leave behind everything they knew and loved, sometimes with just hours or even minutes notice: ‘The most important thing is that you are safe now. You have a bright future. You couldn’t be more welcome. Thank you for all you have done for us.’
The Duke of Cambridge visited refugee families who were evacuated to the UK after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in a Leeds hotel this afternoon
The Duke, 39, chatted with Afghan refugees about their experiences before visiting the hotel’s children’s area where he watched children playing as he was told about the work of the local community
William, whose visit takes place amid reports of a row between the Royal Family and the BBC in the wake of the two-part series The Princes and the Press, appeared in high spirits as he spoke with families
The hotel – which boasts a brightly coloured ‘welcome’ sing – has housed up to 175 people at any one time, often for weeks but sometimes for months, until they can find permanent accommodation.
The local authority, community organisations and charities have all helped with sorting out everything from schools and nurseries to days out, fitness classes, clothes and toys.
The prince – who was greeted by resounding cheers and applause from the refugees – sat down with two families who escaped Kabul in September to come to the UK.
But first there was praise from one of them for the Daily Mail, which has run a long-standing and award-winning campaign – Betrayal of the Brave – to help former Afghan interpreters who worked with the British army get safe relocation to the UK.
Prince William travelled to the city to celebrate diverse communities across the region who have readily welcomed refugees and visited a hotel where families are being temporarily housed
William was keen to hear about the experiences of Afghan refugees who were evacuated to the UK during his surprise visit to a local hotel in Leeds this afternoon
Hussain Saeedi Samangan’s face lit up when the reporter introduced herself, saying: The Daily Mail? That is a sacred name for us!’
Mt Samangan, 38, who worked as a political secretary at the British Embassy in Kabul, continued: ‘The authorities were not telling us anything so we learnt everything about the relocation efforts from the Daily Mail (online). It helped save us. We learnt about everything in the Daily Mail. ‘ He laughed when his son, Daniel, 10, thought his father was talking about ‘Dairy Milk’.
‘No Daniel, Daily Mail,’ he roared. ‘But both are equally sweet to us. ‘ He was accompanied by his wife, Masooma, 31, who had been editor in chief of a newspaper in Kabul, and sons Daniel, 10, and Arian,, one, who entertained William with his antics.
He told the prince that their escape from Kabul had been difficult, as were their initial experiences in their quarantine hotel in the UK, but felt very welcomed in Yorkshire and were optimistic off a ‘bright, exciting future’ in the UK.
The Duke of Cambridge is pictured escaping the cold weather as he entered the Leeds hotel this afternoon
William is pictured chatting with refugee families who were evacuated to the UK after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in a Leeds hotel today
‘We didn’t think Kabul would fall,’ he explained. ‘It took everyone by surprise You will have seen for yourself what it was like in the media. We had some very traumatic moments before the evacuation. But we lucky to receive the help the British government were giving in getting us to the airport, compared to others who spent many hours at the gate. So we had smoother path to get her.’
William asked whether they thought the ‘new’ Taliban would be a different regime.
Shaking his head, he said firmly: ‘No. We know what the Taliban wants, we know they have not changed and that we couldn’t trust them. ‘ The prince was keen to know how their resettlement had been so far.
‘Is it getting easier for you? I must imagine that it must be traumatic starting a new life,’ he said.
‘Yes, now starting everything from scratch is daunting,,’ he said. ‘But we are an open family, me and my partner are very positive that we are going to have a brighter future here. So if you ask how our experience over the past three and a half months in the UK has been, the second part has been the most exciting we have ever had in our lives. We are settling in well, we are making friends. Daniel said to me this morning he had made 11 friends at school.’
‘Eleven friends? ; interjected William. ‘You have more than I have Daniel.’
‘And he has got a letter for you that he has put the names of his friends in,’ Daniel’s father replied, leaving the royal looking moved.
‘We are making friends, I have started college and my wife is going to school learning English. ‘ ‘Well you are both very qualified people,’ the prince said.
He also chatted to Haroom Shahab, 33, who worked as a firefighter at Kabul airport, who was with his wife, Zehra Akbarti, 28.
He told William how he and his family had to wait for 28 hours at the airport to move just 200 metres in order to get on a plane to the UK.
William watched as Afghan children playing in the children’s area of a Leeds hotel while he learned about the vital community work done to help refugees settle into the local area
William learned about the support from the local community including donations of clothes and essential supplies as he chatted with refugees
Mr Shahab described ‘horrific’ scenes with thousands of despair et people running towards the runways, leaving the planes unable to land.
‘They were running, they were desperate, in front of the oncoming aircraft. That was very hard for us,,’ he said.
‘We were trying to get our of the country because our lives has been torn to shreds.
‘When we got to the UK we finally knew we would be safe. The Taliban are killing people without compassion, policemen and their families just gunned down. Anyone with a link to British or NATO forces or government.
‘We are now starting to make a life here for us. The people love us, they have been so kind to us. They are supporting us with food, clothing, education. We are very happy here, i am hoping that I may able to get my old job back as a firefighter.
William watched as Afghan children play as he chatted with their families about the vital community work done to help refugees settle into the UK
‘But I and worried for my colleagues left behinds. They are being killed and their families hunted down.’
‘It must be very difficult trying to build your new life here while you are so worried about them, ‘ William saiid.
He told the prince how the Taliban had taken his parents ‘when they came round looking for me.’
‘There is a lot of fear, a lot of worry still,’ remarked William.
‘Yes, ‘ replied, my father is 82 years old and says that every day they are taking him.’
‘And in your eyes, do you believe the Taliban is any different or do you believe it is the old Taliban you have always knows?’ Asked William.
‘When I was 18 years old I saw them,. They haven’t changed. When were in the airport they were shooting over the childrens heads, they wear crying and screaming ‘what’s happening?’ They are not caring about humanity.’
William also talked with the families about the importance of learning English as part of their attempts to integrate into a new society.
‘NATO and the British military spent more than $100,000 per person training us and helped us with our English,’ Mr Shahab said.
‘And what do you hope for the future?’ William asked. ‘Obviously homes first, but hopefully jobs, education….’
Both men said they where keen to greet jobs to support themselves and their families.
‘Well you are smiling and that’s the main thing, the prince said. ‘Well it’s very nice to chat to you both and welcome. And so nice to see you have had such a warm welcome here as well.’
The prince also meet with groups providing mental health support for the families, many of whom had been through truly frightening and traumatic journeys to get to the UK.
He quizzed representatives of Solace about how they were able to help those trying to start a new life for themselves in the UK while eaten up with worry for their families who had been left behind.
He was told that many suffered from deep anxiety and had seen loves ones, the elderly childrens and the disabled, left behind as they were unable to get on planes due to the chaos at the airport.
‘How does one go about building a new life when you are so worried about those left in the old one,. That must be monumentally difficult,’ asked William.
After visiting a nursery group put on for the hotel guests once a week and chatting with parents, the prince ended his visit on a positive note, meeting families who had successfully relocated to the Uk some years ago, including Omidullah Ahmadi, 32, who had worked as a translator for British military regiment including the Yorkshire Regiment and the Gurkhas. He was with his wife, Santga, 26, ‘They were already killing ;policeman so I dread to think what they would have done to the interpreters if they had got hold of us,’ he said.
‘And I am still so scared for my family back at hotel. I would like to ask for any help that is possible from the British Government to help them. ‘ ‘How have the community been towards you guys?’ Asked William.
Mr Ahmad, who now works as a taxi driver and a translator, smiled and said: ‘They love to hear our stories and when they find out that we worked with the army they are very surprised.
‘I feel very lucky to be there, very glad to be here. It was very dangerous back home. We are so thankful to the British people for what they have done for us.
‘It’s always a bit hard and challenging when you come from such a difficult country and culture but as we had so much support from the Refugee Council and the British government it became easy.’
William remarked: ‘Everyone over here feels connected to you. There’s a lot of love for you and your families,. What you have had to give up and what you have achieved here. You are a shining example for those following you now..’
Former government worker Khalil Ahmed and his wife Mozhda, who were with their son Subhan, four, told hold they had been afraid to send their older children to school because of the Taliban were were now ‘so proud’ of their children’s education.
He is currently working for the Co-Op but studied law and political science at night in Helmand, and hopes to do the same here with a view to pursuing a career in the UK.
‘I am so grateful to the British Government for its support here. We have been supported from the minute we arrived,’ he said.
‘I am sure there have been a few bumps in the road. It takes time to feel comfortable and start a different life after all you have been through. But as you say, there is a bright future head of you,’ William said.
Enver Solomon, chair of the Refugee Council, praise the co-ordinated effort throughout Yorkshire to welcome the Afghan refugees to this country – from simple donations of toiletries or unneeded clothes, through to housing, advice on how to integrate and settle into life in the UK, and mental health and childcare support.
He said: ‘The effort in Leeds hand been nothing short of tremendous across the community in terms of agencies, charities and individuals coming together. What you are seeing in Leeds is a shining example of what has been been done across the country to give these families the best possible welcome.
‘It’s hugely significant to them for the Duke of Cambridge to visit today. It means an awful lot to people. For the families meeting him today has been a very special moment for them. It’s another example of how welcome they have been made to feel.’
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