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Detained Aid Worker Feared ‘He Was Not Going Home’

A British aid worker who spent nine months being held in Afghanistan has told the BBC that at one point he thought he “wasn’t going home”.

Kevin Cornwell, originally from Middlesbrough, was released from detention in October after 272 days.

While imprisoned in Kabul, he said he spent three months trying to avoid being radicalised in his cell.

The paramedic said being reunited with wife Kelly, who had been fighting for his release, was “the most exciting time” in his life.

It comes as Mrs Cornwell, from Fleetwood, Lancashire, graduated from the University of Cumbria after completing her mental health nursing degree.

She said she was “overwhelmed” to receive a special award from her faculty for its most inspirational student, after completing her final-year studies during the ordeal, as well as recovering from a hysterectomy.

Mr Cornwell had been working for the UN Refugee Agency when he was detained for allegedly breaking the country’s laws in January.

He was confronted by secret police who had searched his hotel room where a pistol, for emergency use, was found in his safe.

Despite having a licence, he was taken away with a bag over his head and locked up for 11 days in solitary confinement before even being questioned.

The 54-year-old spent three months in a cell where inmates attempted to “radicalise” him 10 hours a day.

“The three months was quite difficult, I found that not the hardest thing I have ever done but it was extremely difficult trying to avoid the radicalisation inside that cell,” he said.

“When they were asleep I used meditation just to sort of give my head the right space and maintain my mental fitness.

“I didn’t think I was coming out of there. At one point I thought I was going to be there and I wasn’t going home.”

He was later moved into a cell with another British national and a Mexican-American, who remains detained.

‘He’s heading home’

Mrs Cornwell, despite being told not to talk to the media, chose to speak out in a bid to put pressure on the government to have her husband freed.

“I had to humanise Kevin,” she said.

“I don’t think he would be home now if that pressure hadn’t been added and if I hadn’t have taken it to the Press in the first place,” she added.

Mr Cornwell had only six phone calls while detained, and was able to speak with his wife and the UK Foreign Office (FCDO).

“I am a very strong and resilient person but speaking to Kelly gave me hope, and Kelly told me I would be going home, she focused on that quite a lot,” he said.

He said the amount of time they were able to talk was gradually cut short.

“I was under duress while I was on the telephone and I was told what to say,” he said.

“The rest of the time I just ignored them and said what I wanted to say to Kelly, just in case it was the last phone call that I had.”

Mr Cornwell, who served almost 25 years in the military, including 12 years in the Royal Army Medical Corps, has been deployed around the world.

On the day of his release, he said he could not be sure until “the last minute”, as international prisoners would often be given false hope.

“They came in the cell at approximately five o’clock on the morning I was released. I knew it was five o’clock because call of prayer had just been,” he said.

“They took us outside, tidied us up a little bit, told us to get a wash, handcuffed us, put a bag over our heads, put us into an armoured vehicle and took us to the airport with our bags which they had collected.”

Mrs Cornwell described her anxious wait after finding out her husband was being freed.

When she was told he was out of Afghan airspace she “woke the whole household up” to tell them “he’s on his way home”.

Mr Cornwell described the moment he was reunited with his wife.

“It was probably the best moment I have had in my life besides seeing my children being born,” he said.

“I couldn’t speak for a couple of minutes, I didn’t have the words.”

Mr Cornwell, whose health suffered, also developed kidney stones and will have an operation in December.

As he continues with his recovery, he hopes to return to work.

“I won’t be going back to Afghanistan,” he added.

“I may go to a number of other countries to work, but at the moment that is still not decided.”

He paid tribute to his wife’s “resilience” as he watched her graduate at Carlisle Cathedral on Wednesday.

Mrs Cornwell said she was accepting her award for all those “who have also experienced hard times”.

“The past nine months have taught us both that all there is are memories now, we are going to create memories,” she added.

Source : BBC