IN the 1990s, they numbered around 80,000. Today there are just 270 Sikhs in Afghanistan – and an expert to the UN says that community faces “almost certain annihilation”.

With the Taliban now in control of almost all of Afghanistan, its minority communities face particular threat.

Sikhs have been present in the country for hundreds of years – the Guru Nanak’s 16th century visit laid the foundations for its enduring presence, it is said. But the community’s religious freedoms aren’t protected under the Afghan constitution and members have been killed in targeted attacks in recent years. In one 2018 Jalalabad attack, Sikh member of parliament Avtar Singh Khalsa was amongst the figureheads and activists to die in a suicide bombing.

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When the Taliban was last in control, Sikhs were required to wear yellow patches on their clothing to mark them out.

Now in Scotland and throughout the UK, members of the Sikh community are trying to help the families taking refuge in a Kabul gurdwara under guard. On Friday, the Sikh Federation (UK) held an online session with Afghanistan country experts and UN special rapporteurs seeking answers. It’s feared they don’t have long to find them.

Dr Ahmed Shaheed of Essex University, a UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, told the session evacuation is the only real way to ensure their safety. He said: “The community faces almost total annihilation at the hands of the Taliban if they remain in the country for anything beyond the next couple of weeks.”

Logistically, Shaheed said, the “best thing” for the community would be the granting of safe passage to Canada, the UK, Germany and the USA – countries where members will be guaranteed rights and freedoms to practice their faith.

But that would require buy-in from those authorities.

The Indian government has offered to shelter Afghan Sikhs and the remaining 50 Afghan Hindus to avoid persecution. But the session heard that many don’t want to go there because they face poverty.

Bhai Amrik Singh, the chair of Sikh Federation (UK) said: “India is not a viable solution for these people given the lack of long-term stability or opportunity.

“They have communicated their preference to join Afghan Sikhs in the UK, Canada and the US. Sikh organisations in these countries are working and pressuring their respective politicians and governments. We have shared these views with the UN Special Rapporteurs and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.”