Father Sayed Mujeeb Sadat, his wife and four children were holidaying in Kabul when the government collapsed. “We were visiting my in-laws” Sayed tells VRT’s Pascale Mertens. “We never thought we would end up in a situation like that.”
The family’s been living in Belgium for seven years now and this was the first opportunity they had to visit. They took a late holiday because they first wanted to be fully vaccinated.
Sayed saw how the Taliban were gaining control of larger and larger swathes of the country. He feared there would be no escape if they took Kabul and booked an earlier return flight to Belgium. They were scheduled to fly out on 18 August, but the airport closed on 13 August.
Sayed travelled to the airport on several occasions: “Up to 40,000 people were waiting outside. They should have let us through. We are Belgian passport holders, but we couldn’t get through. It was very dangerous. They showed us their weapons again and again.”
The family were eventually given a time and location in the city to be collected by a bus that took them to the airport.
“When we were in the airport, we were very relieved” Sayed tells Pascale. From Kabul the journey went to the Pakistani capital Islamabad. On their arrival at Melsbroek Military Airport in Belgium the family was both happy and relieved. It was when they were leaving the aircraft that daughter Neha skipped along the tarmac. The photo taken by Reuters’ Johanna Geron was flashed round the world.
“I never want to return to Afghanistan” says Neha. She thought she would never get away and is really happy to be home in Belgium. Her father adds that they hope the situation picks up and they are one day able to visit family once again.
From Melsbroek the family went to the army base at Peutie for screening. There Neha suffered a little accident with a very hot cup of tea. She scolded her legs, but checks carried out today show the burns are already getting better.