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Moray Red Cross volunteer returns from Afghanistan refugee support mission to Dubai

By Chris Saunderson

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MORAY health worker Liz Tait spent 11 days in Dubai supporting refugees fleeing the chaos in Afghanistan.

Liz Tait
Liz Tait

The British Red Cross deployed Liz Tait to provide psychosocial support to Afghans who has escaped the Taliban-controlled country on evacuation flights from Kabul airport.

Liz, head of clinical and care governance at Dr Gray's Hospital and Health & Social Care Moray, joined the charity’s psychosocial support team in 2005.

She said: “Our role is to respond to psychosocial requests from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development office when British nationals are caught up in a crisis.”

Liz was one of two psychosocial support team (PST) volunteers deployed to Dubai last month. The team were located in Dubai which was a brief stopover for the evacuees en-route from Kabul to the UK.

There were two shifts to cover with Liz on night shift and her colleague, Jan, on day shift. Liz said: “These large military planes normally carry 180 or 190 people, but regularly we were taking over 400 evacuees off these planes. They were all sitting on the floor of the planes - small children sitting in parents’ laps, toddlers sitting beside parents with an arm around them.”

As they greeted them, Liz would provide reassurance to the families, many of whom were concerned that they might be separated again as they had been in Kabul.

“They were really frightened as some had very traumatic journeys trying to get through Kabul and had been separated on route,” Liz said.

Many people just needed their dignity restored by providing them with kindness and reassurance. Liz added: “Some of them were unwell, some of them were injured, most of them were very hungry as they had not eaten for several days.”

Liz recalled supporting a family who had a child with special needs.

She said: “His family was very concerned about what would happen to him. Would he be taken away from them? I was able to say he’ll be in mainstream education with all the rest of the children.”

There was an emotional moment when Liz recalled talking to an evacuated interpreter as he went through security with his partner and children. As their bags were scanned, a soldier stood nearby, heard their conversation and asked the man his name and where he’d interpreted for the military. The soldier pulled his mask down and asked him “do you remember me, you interpreted for me.” Liz admitted she was “almost in tears at that. It’s heart-warming to be part of these people’s lives.”

“Right at the end, as people boarded their flights to the UK, they expressed their gratitude and I found it quite humbling as I'm only doing what I've been trained to do over the years.”

When Liz is on call, she has to be ready to be deployed within six hours. The high-pressure environments she works in means she can be sent out for no more than 10 days at a time. The PST Volunteers on deployment are in regular contact with the wider Red Cross team back in the UK and receive regular support.

“Although the deployment was finished in Dubai and Kabul, our work will continue in the UK, but in just a slightly different way,” Liz said.

“The Red Cross is still involved. We didn't finish the task when the plane door closed. We know it’s not the end of the story, that Red Cross support will continue for these evacuees.”

Marie Hayes, Scotland Director at the British Red Cross, added: "The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Red Cross and Red Crescent have been providing humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan for over 30 years. We will not stop now.

"The British Red Cross is urging Scots to help meet people’s basic needs by donating to our Afghanistan Appeal. Your money can provide food, basic medical supplies and medicines, shelter and water."

The public can donate by going to redcross.org.uk

Read more on Liz' deployment to Dubai and how she hopes Moray can help Afghan refugees build a new life in Friday's print version of The Northern Scot.

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