New Milton GP Dr Helal Attayee reveals Afghanistan kidnap attempt set him on the path to the UK – where he has been part of the NHS front line against Covid-19
A REFUGEE doctor on the NHS front line battling Covid-19 in the New Forest has described himself as one of the “luckiest people” after escaping the Taliban in Afghanistan and a terrifying kidnap attempt.
Dr Helal Attayee (38), who now works at the Arnewood Practice, told the A&T how he was targeted in 2011 after returning to Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, having studied medicine in Turkey.
He worked with Nato and the British army and had dreams of opening a community clinic – but soon realised that would not be possible, partly due to grudges held by some Afghans for his helping western forces.
He recalled: “I was receiving lots of threatening messages and calls, saying that I was working for the infidels and should not be helping them. But I ignored those – until the attempt to abduct me.
“It happened one night when I was on my way home from the private hospital. In Afghanistan there are mosques every 5km or so for prayers, and as I was passing one of these I was approached by two figures wearing masks and all of a sudden they tried to grab me and get me into a car.
“But I fought back and started shouting and, while I was fighting them, other people outside the mosque started to notice what was happening.
“I resisted the two people long enough so eventually they had to flee when they saw they had been noticed, and luckily I was okay.”
He had resisted urges from relatives and family to leave, but the attack changed his mind and he eventually arrived in the UK in the beginning of 2012.
Dr Attayee said he counts his blessings to be working at the Arnewood Practice: “It’s amazing, to be honest. I think I am one of the luckiest people there is to work here.
“Here at New Milton I am very blessed with colleagues. There are really good mentors here and they are very supportive and helpful with everything.”
However, it was not the warmest of welcomes in the UK as he was settled in a tiny room and given £27 a week to live on while he applied for leave to stay while rules barred him from working.
“That was a hugely difficult time,” he said. “For me not being able to do anything and to be in a room and not able to earn money to support myself – it was tough.”
Dr Attayee’s initial application to stay was rejected by the Home Office – but he appealed and won. That was the beginning of a long and tough process to qualify as a doctor in the UK, including expensive English and medical exams, qualifying in 2015.
“That was the best moment of my life – that changed my life,” he said.
As a teenager in Afghanistan, Dr Attayee had always dreamed of being a doctor. He initially studied law and political science at university while also working for an international charity and as an interpreter for the British forces. But he eventually won a scholarship to Turkey, where he studied medicine and qualified.
To sup-port himself in the UK, he worked in a luggage shop, as a phlebotomist and carer, while also sending some of his wages home to his parents and three sisters.
“We have a culture where, because I am the eldest child, I must support my family by sending some of my wages home,” he explained.
He took up roles in London hospitals and medical centres and spent a spell in the Queen’s Hospital Stroke Department before he was seconded to Southampton General Hospital and fell in love with the south coast where he now calls the local practice and New Forest his home.”
It has been tough, he admits, seeing the Taliban come back to power in Afghanistan last year: “Of course, the homeland is a place I always would love to go to and, apart from that, my family, relatives and friends are there too.
“However, it’s very difficult for me to go back there – the situation, it’s not good. Basically it’s impossible to go back right now as well because I have done television and newspaper interviews and I have mentioned the Taliban, and if I go there they will kill me.”
He revealed that in December the Taliban went to his family home and took away his dad, seeking information on him and his brother-in-law, who has worked as a military doctor for the old government.
His sister, a doctor, has been banned from practising and, while his father was returned, he has now gone into hiding and Dr Attayee is making efforts to smuggle him out of the country to safety.
His mother has already fled to Turkey where she is being looked after by friends.
“I do not see a future of Afghanistan that is rosy,” he said. “I mean, to be honest, what do you expect from a country whose security chief is on the wanted list of the FBI?”
As for refugees, they can add a lot to the UK, he argued, saying: “When I was studying there were lots of refugees who were also qualifying to be nurses, doctors, surgeons and they can add so much to the NHS and the UK and all they want to do is help.”