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Embassy guard flees overland after Finland refuses evacuation: "I lost hope"

The guard says Finland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not responded. 

Vihreän vyöhykkeen sisäänkäynti seisoo tyhjillään Kabulissa.
Finland's embassy was located in the Green Zone in Kabul. Image: Wakil Kohsar / AFP

As the last American soldiers left Kabul airport and Taliban fighters filled the air with celebratory gunfire, one man who worked at the Finnish embassy for years decided he would have to leave under his own steam.

Finland's evacuation lists had not included the man, who was employed to guard the embassy via a subcontractor.

Yle has seen his keycard badge and reference, and checked the reference with the Finnish citizen who signed it. He is not identified in this story because of the ongoing threats he faces.

On 26 August he still lived in hope that he might be evacuated by Finland, even though he had not yet been named on an evacuation list. Like thousands of others, he headed to the airport.

"Those were the final days, that's why I went to the airport," said the guard.

The security guard was not far from the Isis bomb blast that killed some 175 people that evening. The next day Finland announced its own operations at the airport had ended.

Some of the guard's colleagues were evacuated from Finland later, thanks to assistance from American forces, but those not on the evacuation lists were left in Kabul.

The Finnish government had decided to evacuate about a third of the embassy's guards, leaving behind some 40 people employed as security guards by a subcontractor.

"I lost hope," said the guard.

Threatened at night

The same night that the last Americans left Kabul airport, one of the guard's colleagues received a voice message from an unknown number.

The message is recorded in Pashto and features a man claiming to be a Taliban fighter saying that the organisation has lists of people who had worked with foreigners, and was now deciding what to do with them.

The message has been shared many times. Yle has heard the message, but has not verified its source.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had denied immediately before the US withdrew that any lists of people who had worked with foreign organisations had been given to the Taliban.

Blinken said that names had only been given to the Taliban so that those on lists could make it through checkpoints to the airport.

The Taliban, meanwhile, has said it would not seek revenge on former enemies and those who worked against it. Many Afghans find those assurances difficult to believe, however.

Journey to Pakistan

The man interviewed by Yle did not want to wait and see if the Taliban would stick to their word. He left at 4am with his brother, who also worked at the Finnish embassy.

They drove for twelve hours to reach the Pakistani border, leaving most of their documents at home for fear that the Taliban would find them at a checkpoint.

"There's nothing for us in Kabul any more," said the guard. "We would have died there if we'd stayed."

The journey to Pakistan went relatively smoothly, in the end.

"There were a lot of checkpoints on the way, but fortunately I had my family with me, women, sisters and our mother, so they didn't check our documents or phones too carefully," said the guard.

Story continues after photo

Pakistanilainen sotilas vartioi Pakistanin ja Afganistanin rajanylityspisteellä.
Pakistani troops patrol their border with Afghanistan on 26 August. Image: AFP / Lehtikuva

At the border, however, they got stuck. There were thousands of Afghans waiting there to get into Pakistan.

The Pakistani authorities have tightened up recently, with four million Afghan refugees already resident there. The government has said it cannot take any more, and border guards now turn back anyone who doesn't have a visa, residence permit or Pakistani passport.

The guard and his group did not have the documents, so they were forced to take a longer route skirting the official border crossings, on motorcycles along mountain tracks.

Disappointed in Finland

Now the guard and his family live with friends in Pakistan and he still hopes that he might make it to Finland or some other country.

His colleagues remaining in Kabul hope that he might somehow be able to help them too.

Finland does not have an embassy in Pakistan, however. The guards' emails to the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs have gone unanswered.

The man fears that he will be left as an undocumented migrant in Pakistan. He is running out of money, and says he has not received any wages for the two weeks he worked in August, let alone any notice period.

Security at the embassy was contracted out to a Finnish company which in turn farmed out the contract to an Afghan firm called Tahiri Protections Risk Management Consulting.

"I don't know if I should stay and live here," said the guard. "I don't have anything here, no ID and no visa."

He says he is losing hope in the future.

"I wanted to study in Afghanistan. I had lots of plans there."

He's also disappointed with the way he was treated by Finland.

"We protected them from threats for years," said the guard. "We were with them in difficult conditions, but now they left us behind."

MFA: We aim to answer everyone

Yle asked the Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MFA) why the man's email had not been answered.

The ministry said they had received many emails from individuals, and they are still working through the backlog, but added that it understands people's concerns and aims to answer everyone.

Yle also asked if Finland plans to take any further steps to help security guards who had protected its embassy in Kabul.

MFA said that in Afghanistan there remain some Finnish citizens and people with residence permits, along with people on evacuation lists, who they will try to help.

Their spokesperson emphasised however that the ministry can only act to help those on official evacuation lists as approved by the Finnish government. The ministry says that evacuation decisions prioritised those in exceptionally visible roles who were felt to be at the greatest risk.

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