An artist and entrepreneur once voted Afghan businesswoman of the year has been granted asylum by the Home Office after being last week.
Samira Kitman, 32, who lives in Lancaster, had originally been refused asylum, but was due to appeal on Monday. Late last week, Home Office officials changed their mind, saying they had not realised the extent of Kitman’s profile in and around the world.
They left Afghanistan a family of nine. They arrived in the UK a family of two
She had travelled widely before fleeing Afghanistan after a kidnap attempt and threats she believed came from the Taliban. She visited the US for a meeting with the then secretary of state, John Kerry, and was featured in , a book by the former first lady Laura Bush. Her calligraphy has been praised by Prince Charles and displayed in London’s V&A museum and the Smithsonian in Washington DC.
Her lawyer, Patrick Howe, told the Guardian: “They [the Home Office] advised that, after reviewing their decision, they hadn’t realised the extent of Samira’s profile in Afghanistan and internationally, and that due to her profile she would be at risk.”
As soon as the Home Office completes security checks Kitman will be given refugee status and a five-year visa, after which she will be able to apply for permanent resettlement in the UK.
Kitman came to the attention of the future king while training at Turquoise Mountain, an art school in old Kabul set up in 2006 by the Tory MP Rory Stewart at the behest of the prince and the then Afghan president. The college trains a new generation of Afghan artisans in woodwork, miniature painting, ceramics, jewellery, gem-cutting and calligraphy – Kitman’s specialism. Her artwork became widely respected and in 2014 she led one of the Afghan crafts industry’s – providing miniature painting, ceramics and woodwork to the new five-star Anjum hotel in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
As well as working on her own art, she co-owned a crisp factory and set up , an arts foundation which trained young, deprived women to become artists and make a living. By the time she left Afghanistan the charity had taught more than 90 young girls calligraphy skills and how to make miniature paintings. In 2015 she was named best female entrepreneur at the International Women’s Day event sponsored by the women’s centre of the American University of Afghanistan.
All of these activities combined to make her an enemy of the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist group who object to women playing a public role in society. They did not like the profile she was building internationally, after visits to Germany, Dubai, India, Tajikistan and Pakistan.
She said she was forced to leave Kabul after a taxi driver attempted to abduct her, and after receiving a string of death threats. She came to the UK on a valid visa last year and claimed asylum shortly after arrival, saying she feared for her life back home.
The reality of life as an asylum seeker brought about a stark lifestyle change for Kitman, who lived in a big house in Kabul with her wealthy family. In the UK, she found herself barred from working and had to survive on the £5-a-day allowance the Home Office gives to asylum seekers.
Kitman is overjoyed at the result and looking forward to working and living an independent life in Lancaster, where she hopes to continue her art.
Jenny Natusch, an artist who has become a close friend of Kitman, told the Guardian: “Thank you a million trillion billion on behalf of Samira – we’re pretty sure it’s your article that has potentially saved her life.”
Howe said: “It is great news for Samira and she can finally start rebuilding her life. Unfortunately this is a prime example of the terrors people face all around the world and that there are people who are in serious need of protection and have to go to great lengths to receive it.”