A charity worker feared she and her family would die as they endured a terrifying ordeal trying to flee to safety from war-torn Afghanistan.
Frishta Matin has relived the desperate attempts to board a plane amid chaotic and frightening scenes in Kabul.
Shielding the ears of her 10-month-old baby from deafening gunfire, she witnessed the horror of a man being shot dead in front of the family who were in constant fear of a suicide bomb attack.
“At that time I thought ‘these are our last minutes. Everything will end here’,” she said.
Pledging to continue to work to help people in Afghanistan
Having finally escaped the country, the family aim to start a new life in Lewis where Frishta, 29, and her sister Farzana, 25, will continue to work for the Linda Norgrove Foundation.
They flew into Stornoway today with Frishta’s husband Murtaza, 31, baby Kia and their brother Zaker.
Frishta has pledged to continue to work for the charity that helps women in Afghanistan get an education and jobs.
She also wants to help others leave the country, including her parents and two other brothers she had to leave behind.
Frishta and Farzana feared for their lives in their home country because they work with women and as they belong to the Hazara ethnic group, often targeted by the Taliban.
Their vulnerable situation was highlighted by John and Linda Norgrove who founded the charity in memory of their daughter Linda, who campaigned for education rights for Afghan women.
Linda was abducted in 2010 and killed by a grenade during a rescue operation by US forces.
The Norgroves raised the case with the UK Government which evacuated over 15,000 people from Afghanistan following the Taliban taking control.
People shouting and crying amid constant gunfire
Frishta and her family spent two days and nights at the airport amid constant gunfire, coming close on several occasions to securing their passage to freedom.
But the volatile security situation in Kabul meant they did not make it onto a UK flight out.
“That whole night, I tried to put my hands over Kia’s ears to stop him hearing the noise of shooting and people crying and shouting.
“The army was shooting in front of peoples’ feet to try to scare the big crowds away from the gate, but they were not deterred.
“We saw this one person get closer and closer until they shot him and he fell dead in the street.
“Despite that, crowds of people desperately trying to get through the gate continued to gather.
“It shows how scared people were that they were prepared to take such risks to get out of Kabul.”
They were bussed to Kabul Airport the day after 13 American troops and at least 169 civilians had been killed in a suicide bombing on August 26.
The family feared for their lives amid suggestions ISIS-K bombers were planning a follow-up attack.
“There were times I was thinking ‘this is the end of life for me, my husband and my baby.”
Changing locations to hide from the Taliban
After failing to get on a flight, the family went into hiding in Mazer-i-Sharif, north of Kabul.
They spent 23 days living in hotels and guest houses, changing location eight or nine times to avoid Taliban soldiers.
The family considered fleeing to Pakistan without visas: “We were at home with no hope. It was very difficult for us to think what the next step would be and what we should do.”
They then got a call offering places on a flight arranged by the American charity Uplift Afghanistan Fund.
Fristha told The Press and Journal the call came from an Afghan speaker and she feared it may be a member of the Taliban.
“Two days before I saw a post on Facebook saying the Taliban were contacting people saying they were from the British Embassy helping them evacuate.
“It was difficult to know what to do. We were worried, but we had to trust them because that was our last chance. We didn’t have any other options.”
After speaking to friends, including the Norgroves, they discovered the call was genuine and they finally got on a plane.
But with flights out of Afghanistan turned back by other countries, the family knew they were not safe yet.
However, they started to believe they were free as the plane touched down in Qatar where they were supported by British Embassy staff.
Mixed emotions about leaving Afghanistan
A later flight took them to Edinburgh where they quarantined for 10 days.
Frishta said the frightening experience was made more difficult having to look after her young child.
“My husband and brother and sister were ok. But my baby was just nine months old when this started.
“In the last two months he has experienced so many difficulties, especially in those two days and nights at the airport.”
She said she left her home with “mixed emotions”, with people remaining in Afghanistan who have lost their jobs as food prices rocket.
“I certainly want to continue to work for the foundation because we left behind so many girls whose lives are in danger.
“It gives me a good feeling that I can still do something for them.
“I don’t know what I can do for others like my family. But I hope that now I’m here I can find a way for them as well.”
She added: “We have heard that Scotland is cold and rainy… but it is peaceful.
“We’d rather deal with the rain in Scotland than the Taliban in Afghanistan.”
Frishta and Farzana’s plight was highlighted by the Norgrove Foundation to Scottish Secretary Alister Jack who raised the case with the then-Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
The foundation previously raised concerns about their staff being ‘left to the wolves’ in Afghanistan.
‘One of the best phone calls of my life’
John Norgrove said: “It was one of the best phone calls of my life when we finally heard they’d got out.
“That 46 hours they were at the airport was traumatic.
“We were communicating using voice notes on WhatsApp and in their messages all you could hear was constant gunfire in the background.
“You realised how dangerous a position they were in.
“We are grateful for the support of the Scottish secretary, the foreign secretary and everyone else who have combined to finally get our staff and their family to safety in Scotland.
“We’re particularly grateful to the US charity, the Uplift Afghanistan Fund, as they managed to get them out of the country when every other avenue had drawn a blank.”
The foundation now hopes to rescue 20 Afghan medical students it has been supporting and will continue to support people living there.
John added: “We will obviously need to change the way we work, but our work helping women and children in Afghanistan will continue.
“This is not the end of us continuing our daughter Linda’s legacy.”
Building a new life in the UK
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said: “I am very pleased that the UK Government was able to play its part in helping evacuate Frishta, Farzana and their family to safety from Afghanistan.
“It must be a tremendous relief, not just for them, but also for John and Lorna Norgrove.
“I want to thank all of those in the UK, the US, Afghanistan and Qatar who worked so tirelessly to make their safe passage possible.
“I’m sure that the sisters and their family will be warmly welcomed in Scotland, and we will do all we can to support them in building a new, secure life in the UK.