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  • War in Afghanistan (2001-present)

image sourcePeymana Assadimage captionPeymana Assad flew back to the UK on an RAF flight on Tuesday

A former child refugee who has grown up to become a London councillor has described how she feared for her life as she fled Afghanistan this week.

Peymana Assad came to the UK at the age of three, but was visiting family in Kabul when the Taliban takeover began.

She told BBC Radio 5 Live she was warned by one local man "if the Taliban catch you they are going to kill you".

Ms Assad said she witnessed scenes of "chaos" near the airport just before she left on an RAF flight on Tuesday.

"It's been a really difficult and traumatic experience for me – I think it's really changed my outlook on life and really changed me as a person," she said.

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Ms Assad, 30, arrived in Afghanistan in July. By early August, as the Taliban continued to make rapid gains across the country, her relatives began to worry.

"My family started putting a lot of pressure on me and said 'you need to book a ticket and get out of here'."

Ms Assad, a Labour councillor in Harrow, north-west London – who is believed to be the first person of Afghan origin to be elected to public office in the UK – thought her family were being "sensational".

"I was of the belief that the Taliban could not take Kabul and the government would not fall," she told Radio 5 Live's Colin Murray.

But she acknowledged that "everything completely changed" and on 14 August the militants gathered on the outskirts of the Afghan capital.

image sourceEPAimage captionThe Taliban moved into Kabul on 15 August

"Kabul was basically surrounded and my family felt it was time for me to leave our family home."

Ms Assad said they worried the Taliban would carry out checks on vehicles and search houses and she would be prevented from leaving the country.

So on Saturday evening, Ms Assad "quickly packed my bags" and moved to lodgings closer to Hamid Karzai International Airport.

By now, the UK government had begun helping Britons, as well as Afghans who had worked for the UK military, leave the country.

"In the morning when I woke up…. at about 10am, the embassy called. The British embassy said we are evacuating you from Kabul," said Ms Assad.

She then found she had very little time to assess the situation.

"I was sitting there having some tea and the neighbour knocked on the door.

"He was in a panic – he said the Taliban have already entered Kabul and they have taken a few districts and they are approaching this district… you need to get out now."

Ms Assad said the roads in the area were blocked and she began to walk to the airport with neighbours.

She quickly grabbed her hand luggage and they took her through some back streets on to a traffic-jammed dual carriageway.

"From the back street, I saw hundreds and hundreds of people just running and walking towards the airport. People are getting out of the cars and running towards the airport.

"And so there I am running with them – there's women, there's young people, there's children…

"All the shopkeepers have come out to watch the panic and the chaos and the fear of everyone running towards the airport. And one of them, as I was running, pointed at me and he said: 'You – if the Taliban catch you they are going to kill you. You better start running faster.'.

"That kind of set a lot of fear in my heart because that might actually be true if they do catch me – so I started running a bit faster towards the airport."

image sourceReutersimage captionThousands of Afghans have been waiting outside Kabul airport hoping they will be offered a route out of the country

Ms Assad found the UK meeting point – but was told she was too late. Officials had already been there and left.

"I just stood in the street – I had 3% battery and I looked at my battery and I thought if my phone dies and I'm standing here and the embassy aren't here, then what's going to happen? And the Taliban are literally advancing on to this area, I need to get somewhere safe – I need to go inside.

"I found this Afghan family who during this commotion – all these people were out in the streets panicking – they decided to take me in. They let me go into their house and they let me charge my phone and they gave me some food.

"And they let me figure it out about where I was going and what was going to happen."

Ms Assad says she managed to call the Foreign Office and her MP in London, Gareth Thomas, and was advised to return to the meeting point at a designated time.

"The family were very kind, they put me in their car and they took me to the safe location point again and when I arrived there again I saw the British military were there," said Ms Assad.

"And the moment I saw them and they saw me I just felt so much safer… and kind of sighed relief that I was safe at that point."

image sourceMOD, PA Media

Referring to the UK government's response to the situation in Afghanistan, Ms Assad said: "We don't have time, we need to get Afghans to safety now.

"We can deal with the bureaucracy later. The Taliban are conducting house to house searches and looking for anybody connected to the Afghan government, those who worked with foreign soldiers or are women in public life. Their lives are at risk. It's our responsibility to help those who've helped us."