Journalist reveals her cousin called her from Kabul to say her goodbye

British journalist who was smuggled from Afghanistan as a child reveals how her liberal lecturer cousin called her from Kabul to say her goodbyes after fears she was going to be killed by the Taliban

  •  EXCLUSIVE: Nelufar Hedayat, 33, was born in Kabul but left in the late eighties
  • Newsround presenter told FEMAIL her cousin in Afghanistan fears being killed
  • She revealed her female cousin is ‘top of Taliban’s hitlist’ after lecturing in democracy at Kabul University 

A British journalist who fled war-torn Afghanistan as a child has spoken of her heartbreaking phone call with her cousin who fears being murdered by the Taliban for being too liberal. 

Nelufar Hedayat, 33, was born in Kabul but left in the late eighties, spending time in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, before arriving in London in 1994. 

The documentary-maker is a regular face on British TV screens, best known for presenting CBBC’s Newsround from 2011 to 2014. She has also presented for Channel 4’s Unreported World, and now has her own podcast series Doha Debates. 

Speaking exclusively to FEMAIL, Nelufar explained how her female cousin, who can’t be named for her own safety, is ‘top of the Taliban’s hit list’ due to her work as a University lecturer.   

Nelufar Hedayat, 33, was born in Kabul but left in the late eighties, spending time in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, before arriving in London in 1994. She is pictured at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah

‘My dad and I received a call from my female cousin in Afghanistan.

‘My cousin was saying, “They’re going to kill me. I’ve been too liberal. I’ve worked for the other side. 

‘”I wanted to call and say goodbye. If I never get to speak to you again, thank you for everything. We love you.”‘

It comes amid fears ISIS will strike again ahead of the Tuesday deadline for foreign troops to leave following the double suicide attack at Kabul airport which killed at least 170 people, including 13 American service personnel. 

The Taliban took control of Kabul on last week, securing their power over the nation by posing in the presidential palace, causing many Afghan women to desperately flee the country in fear of their own lives. 

During Taliban rule in the 1990s, women were forced to wear coverings from head to toe, not allowed to work or attend schools and not allowed to leave their homes unless accompanied by a male relative. 

The documentary-maker is a regular face on British TV screens, best known for presenting CBBC’s Newsround from 2011 to 2014. She has also presented for Channel 4’s Unreported World, and now has her own podcast series Doha Debates. Nelufar, aged four, is pictured right with her sister Mursal, aged one, (left) in Peshawar, Pakistan

Nelufar’s cousin is a teacher at Kabul University on democracy and its benefits. 

 ‘[My cousin] is everything the Taliban hates. She says she’ll be on top of the Taliban hit list.’    

‘It is unfathomable to know what to do when you get a call like this. 

‘In the space of two weeks the women in my family back in Afghanistan, those that we bragged about, that had studied and educated themselves against the odds and made something of themselves, are in immense danger.

 ‘I cannot identify my cousin any further, for fear of any attacks.’

Nelufar Hedayat, 33, was born in Kabul but left in the late eighties, spending time in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, before arriving in London in 1994

Over the last two weeks, Nelufar’s family have psychologically prepared themselves for many calls like this.

‘Making these calls is heart shattering. I feel completely helpless. These are the Afghans that we are leaving behind. They don’t get an evacuation, they don’t get saved.’

Nel added that the current situation feels like ‘reliving a bad dream’ because ‘millions of people have been left hopeless’.  

‘My other aunty in Kabul is a carer for her husband who became disabled after a stroke. When we call her, she just cries and cries. 


Nelufar is pictured left in 2002 in London, on her mother’s first day of work experience at a Barrister’s Chambers. She is pictured right in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 1992

‘No words exchanged between us because frankly, what can we possibly say? We cry with her.’ 

‘For Afghans, British people and the world over, this all feels like remembering a bad dream. 

‘We’re having to get our mouths around words we haven’t uttered for a long time. Burqa, Taliban, Sharia, extremism, beheading, war. 

‘We’re quickly learning that history has repeated itself. 

‘Following the US, the UK invaded a land far, far away, tried what it could through military might to get its way, and is now being forced out by the same people they have tried to destroy.’ 

‘Millions of Afghans will be left helpless in this hopeless mess but for the lucky few that are being evacuated to other lands I can tell you they have another battle on their hands– the biggest of which is being misunderstood.’

Nazir Ahmad (Nel’s father), baby sister Mursal (left) and Nelufar on the right (age 3), in 1990

Based on her experience as an Afghan refugee to the UK in the 80’s, Nel said, ‘I want to warn [the Afghan refugees of today] to be brave and not let the careless attacks of being called lazy, greedy, smelly, burdensome, unwanted, and dangerous get to them.’

She added, ‘I want to let them know that there are kind and understanding folk who will see their efforts as what they are: noble, ambitious, desperate, and unavoidable.’

‘If I could say to the British and American people about what to do with regards to Afghanistan right now, I’d say: Be kind. 

‘For God’s sake. Be kind and understand, we in the West are one climate catastrophe away from being made homeless by the thousands and in need of help from other nations. 

‘Donate to charities that you feel connected to. If you connect with the LGBTQ+ community, help queer Afghans. 

 

Nelufar, 33, was trafficked from Kabul to London as an infant, but is now thriving as a broadcaster

‘If you identify with the women of Afghanistan, donate accordingly. If you can open your spare room or flat to a refugee, there are charities that help connect refugees in need with hosts that want to help individuals directly. 

‘There’s so much work that needs to be done.’

Nelufar previously told FEMAIL she was illegally smuggled out of Kabul in the late eighties by human traffickers, who took her and her family on a perilous journey to claim asylum in the UK.

At one point, the smugglers told Nel’s family they were going to German, before the plane landed at Heathrow. 

Her mother Patuni worked as a civil engineer and often travelled abroad with her friends before turf wars between different religious and political groups broken out in her native Afghanistan.

She grew up in London and eventually pursued a career in journalism, presenting for CBBC’s Newsround from 2011- 2014, as well as for Channel 4’s ‘Unreported World.’ 

Nelufar  (left), is pictured aged three in Peshawar, Pakistan with  two friends

Now she’s an independent filmmaker and a correspondent for Doha Debates, a media organisation based in  Qatar that produces films, podcasts, debates, and video.

Nel’s work has allowed her to stay in touch with her home country and particularly understand the role of female teachers in Afghan society. 

‘Back in 2011, I made a documentary about the lives of Afghan women after the fall of the Taliban in the late 90’s,’ she told FEMAIL.

‘These women were heroes by any standard but to me above them all stood my aunty Marzia, who had taught young women, smuggling schoolbooks under her burqa. Since them Afghanistan has enjoyed a rise in girls’ education like never before.’

Now, after 20 years of girls’ having the right and freedom to learn and go to school, Nel says that once again her aunt has had to close the school  where she was once headteacher.

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