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LGBT+ Afghans call on UK to save them from Taliban violence in Pakistan protest

LGBT+ Afghans gathered in a park in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Thursday to call for help from the UK Government (Roshaniya/PA)
LGBT+ Afghans gathered in a park in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Thursday to call for help from the UK Government (Roshaniya/PA)

A transgender Afghan has called on the UK Government to offer asylum to members of the LGBT+ community in her country after a year of oppression, rape and violence under the Taliban’s rule.

Ozlam, who asked to be referred to by that name, is the leader of a group of Afghan refugees protesting in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, on Thursday to urge the UK to grant asylum to more than 1,000 LGBT+ Afghans attempting to flee Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Accompanied by the online #LetUsLive campaign, the protest comes weeks after 24-year-old Ozlam was attacked in her home in Kabul by Taliban fighters, in a raid she said claimed the life of one of her four LGBT+ housemates.

Ozlam told the PA news agency her friend was kidnapped, raped and then found hanging from a tree in a park the day after the attack in the Afghan capital.

“Life before the Taliban was already not very good for us but when the Taliban took control, the LGBT+ community began facing problems on a daily basis,” Ozlam said, speaking to PA through a translator.

“People have been harassed, they have been raped, and they have been killed – these are the issues people are facing.

“There are many other transgender Afghans who have been kidnapped and even now we don’t know whether they are still alive.”

LGBT+ Afghans have faced a year of oppression under Taliban rule (Roshaniya/PA)

Organised by Ozlam and humanitarian group Roshaniya, the Islamabad demonstration was initially planned to take place outside the British embassy but pressure from Pakistani police meant it had to be relocated to Lake View Park in the city centre – where a small group gathered with placards, some of them addressed to the UK’s Foreign Office (FCDO).

“Dear FCDO: We do not want your mind games of vanity,” read one sign.

Before the Taliban seized control of Kabul on August 15 2021, Ozlam had been living with her fiancee, but now lives in Islamabad after recently fleeing Afghanistan and working to encourage other LGBT+ Afghans to fight for their right to live freely.

Roshaniya claimed that within two years or less, the entire community of LGBT+ Afghans will disappear as a result of executions and torture inflicted by the Taliban.

“We want to raise our voice for all the people in the LGBT+ community who are still struggling in Afghanistan,” Ozlam said.

“We are a part of this society and we want to have the right to live our lives the way we want to.”

The demonstration in Pakistan had to be relocated to a park in the city centre from outside the British embassy (Roshaniya/PA)

Roshaniya said it is aware of more than 1,000 LGBT+ Afghans and 20 LGBT+ advocates who remain stuck in Afghanistan or left in limbo in Iran, Pakistan and Turkey.

The group is calling on the UK to grant asylum to at least 100-200 of those refugees, but claims the UK Government has repeatedly rejected their calls to help those on their evacuation list.

“We just want to appeal to the world, and especially the UK, to please help us,” she said.

Monday marks a year since the Taliban captured Kabul as US and Nato forces withdrew from Afghanistan, ending a nearly 20-year war against the Taliban’s insurgency.

Western governments have refused to recognise the Taliban’s rule, demanding respect for human rights and tolerance for other groups.

A UK Government spokesman said: “The UK is a fierce champion of freedom and the right of all people to be themselves and love who they want free from persecution.

“We will continue to help evacuate LGBT+ people from Afghanistan and do all we can to help at-risk Afghans leave the country.”