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Afghan refugees: Scotland is our home now

Farzana Matin has found work - and is learning to ride a bike - since moving to Lewis

Sisters who feared they would die while trying to flee violence in Afghanistan have told how Scotland has become their new home.

Frishta and Farzana Matin said they had to leave or face persecution from the Taliban after they returned to power following the withdrawal of a US-led military coalition in August 2021.

The women fled with Frishta's husband Murtaza Barlas and their baby son Kia, along with their brother Zaker.

The family have started a new life in Lewis, in the Western Isles, with help from local charity the Linda Norgrove Foundation.

Farzana told BBC Alba's Eòrpa programme: "Now Scotland is my home, and I want to be like people here.

"I want to learn about people's lives, people's culture. I want to learn Gaelic."

Farzana said she wanted to do all these things while retaining her Afghan identity.

The family are Hazara - an ethnic community at risk of persecution by the Taliban.

Women's rights and freedoms have been severely restricted since the militant Islamists seized power in 2021.

This includes prohibiting girls from receiving secondary or higher education and restrictions on women travelling. New dress codes for women were imposed last year and over the summer, beauty salons were banned.

Farzana said she had not want to live in a place where others decided what she could do or what clothes she was allowed to wear.

Frishta added: "Sometimes I think about those kids in Afghanistan that their father will not take them out and their mother is not allowed to go to the playground, and they're stuck at home.

"I think my son is really fortunate to have this life that is right now here.

"He can go to school, he can have friends. He can be free to what he wants to do."

Frishta said she often thinks about those she left behind in Afghanistan
Afghan family
The family have settled into their new life in the Western Isles

In October 2021, the family endured a days-long ordeal as fighting erupted around their home in Kabul.

They narrowly missed the last coalition flight from the capital city and were forced to find an alternative route out.

After days hiding from Taliban soldiers just north of Kabul they were eventually able to get on a flight to Qatar organised by US charity the Uplift Afghanistan Fund.

Even then the family was terrified of capture when members of the Taliban came inside the plane to check passengers' documents.

It was only when the plane finally took off did the family dare to think it was their moment of escape.

From Qatar they flew to the UK where they travelled to Edinburgh and then Lewis.

Frishta said there were times in Kabul she thought they would die.

She said: "I just looked to my husband, hugged my son and I said 'maybe it’s the last time we see each other'.

Two years on, and the family have settled into island life, involving themselves in the local community and working in jobs.

Farzana works for the Scottish Refugee Council helping others like herself.

She has also been learning to ride a bike, while Frishta is taking driving lessons.

She said: "I want to go to all of the beaches. I love seashells, to collect seashells."

Farzana said she wants to learn Gaelic

The Linda Norgrove Foundation has been supporting the family.

The sisters had worked for the charity in Afghanistan and continue to be involved as trustees.

Linda Norgrove was an aid worker from Lewis involved in projects helping women and girls in Afghanistan.

She was kidnapped by the Taliban in September 2010 and died during an attempt to rescue her.

Frishta said: "I think about Linda and her life and what she did in Afghanistan and how that changed my life, my family's life."