Afghan boy, 10, reunited with twin in London after a year stranded in France

The mood outside the arrivals gate at St. Pancras International Station at midday on Wednesday is one of excitement.

A group has gathered to meet the Paris train, holding gifts, flowers, and the Afghan flag. People chat away, one eye on the clock, but 10-year-old Irfanullah stays silent.

He is nervously stepping side to side, clutching a single flower in his hand. Yet when Obaidualluah finally wheels his silver suitcase through the gate, flanked by United Nations officers, the boy darts forward, leaping into his brother’s arms, and begins to sob.

The twins hold each other tightly for several minutes, unwilling to let go. Understandable as Irfanullah and Obaidullah Jabarkhyl, both 10, have been separated for over a year, ever since a bomb went off at Kabul Airport on 26 August 2021.

The Afghan brothers, from Jalalabad, had lost contact with their parents in the aftermath of the explosion. As some family members worked with western forces they had all been trying to leave the country due to being under direct threat from the Taliban.

The boys’ father had told them to hold hands before they got lost in the commotion. They hid in a basement until they were ushered onto a flight to Doha where they were split up when one went to the toilet – Irfanullah heading to London to stay with family, and Obaidullah ending up in France alone.

Cousin Qamar Jabarkhyl, 28 and from Edgware, North London, spoke with him every day – with the little boy ringing up to 20 times at points.

“Each time he phoned me it would melt my heart, he would say ‘Hello, hi’, and then go quiet,” says Qamar to The Mirror. “He was not in school in France, they only put him in some sort of community school for two days a week.”

At first, he was staying with an Afghan family living in a small studio flat in Strasbourg, then he was put with another young refugee who worked nights in Lidl so the child was left alone. “That was the most worrying part for us,” says Qamar. “Then, eventually, he stopped looking after him.”

For the last few months Obaidullah has been staying in a refugee camp in Strasbourg, the youngest person they have ever had – sleeping on the floor surrounded by much older teenagers and men.

“He is very traumatised,” says Qamar. “When I used to speak to him in Afghanistan, he was happy and told me loads of stories about home and what he did with his friends, but day by day he got quieter. He didn’t have anything to look forward to in France.”

Although Qamar went to visit his young cousin in Strasbourg, Irfanullah couldn’t as he does not yet have travel documentation, but the twins spoke regularly on FaceTime. “They didn’t share with us how much they miss each other and their parents, but you can see it in their eyes, and when they’re upset, they wouldn’t really express it to us,” explains Qamar.

Despite not having heard from their parents or sister who are still in Afghanistan, at 12:30 pm Obaidullah was finally reunited with his twin, cousins, and uncle after a long back and forth with the Home Office, including their case being ignored for months.

The situation only finally gained traction when Qamar’s constituency MP, Bob Blackman raised the issue in the House of Commons describing the bureaucratic nightmare of biometric cards and visa applications.

Although Irfanullah is clearly overwhelmed to see his twin once more, Obaidullah is subdued. He didn’t let himself get excited this morning, “He asked the guy he was sharing a room with, ‘Can you pinch me to see if I’m dreaming about me going to the UK tomorrow?’” says Qamar.

Still, the young boy is in shock, ”I don’t believe that I’m here in the UK it is a dream for me. I am very, very happy and very excited to spend my life with my brother,” he says, with Qamar acting as translator. “I want to spend my life with my family and I want to move forward.”

The twins will be living with their uncle Noor Jabarkhyl and his children in North London. The 46-year-old, who has tears in his eyes, says: “I was very upset when he was over there and I couldn’t help him, I’m so happy that he is finally here. Irfanullah has been very excited, but he can’t express it. It’s a lot of mixed emotions.”

The family plan to take things slow to allow the boys to bond before having a big family get-together at the weekend to welcome Obaidullah to his new life.