Over 1,000 Afghan Citizens Eligible to Come to UK Remain Stuck in Pakistan: Report

Mon Apr 03 2023
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LONDON: More than 1,000 Afghan citizens eligible to come to the United Kingdom for resettlement remain stuck in Pakistan, a report by The Independent said.


The asylum seekers, mainly citizens who served alongside United Kingdom forces in Afghanistan and their families, have been stranded since the United Kingdom ceased chartering special Royal Air Force (RAF) flights to evacuate Afghan citizens from Pakistan in November, according to joint research with Lighthouse Reports.


Those left could face up to a year before they can travel on commercial flights due to the lack of safe housing in the United Kingdom and severe Home Office backlogs in processing asylum seekers. Whilst in Pakistan, they’re left in legal limbo, with restricted rights, sources of income and no approach to education.


Among those stranded are ex-interpreters, medics and embassy employees, and at least 500 children.


There are at least 4,600 citizens still stuck in Afghanistan, whilst the United Kingdom government has come in for criticism after it just now emerged that an ex-Afghan pilot, who had served alongside the UK Army, had been threatened with deportation to Rwanda.


UK minister


Johnny Mercer, the United Kingdom minister for veterans’ affairs, told MPs in the House of Commons: “The flow of citizens (from Afghanistan) to whom we’ve responsibility is not working as we would like at the moment.”


James Heappey, Armed Forces Minister, admitted that 63 citizens stranded in Pakistan had been there over the year — with some having been there over 500 days.


Those identified are allowed to travel to the United Kingdom under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy, but the number of those travelling since November has plummeted, with just 56 in 2023, down from an average of 385 per month in 2022.


One ex-interpreter, trapped in Pakistan for over a year, said: “This is my sin I worked with UK forces. I’m like a prisoner, and we’re not safe in Pakistan.


“I do not know what I’m doing. I’ve anxiety. If they [the UK government] do not give me an answer in two months, I’ll run away from this place. I’ll go illegally to European nations to get to safety.”


Another person, a doctor whose father worked as an interpreter for the Royal Army, hopes to join his parents, recently living in a hotel in the United Kingdom.


“I am all day long in only one room; you can say it’s like being in jail, but without any crime. I’m a professional doctor. I want to work. I’m young. England needs doctors, but unfortunately, I am still here,” he told The Independent.


An ex-British Embassy employee and father of five, who was told he would’ve to source his own accommodation if he travelled to the United Kingdom, told The Independent: “Unfortunately, I’ve no relatives in the United Kingdom. It’s impossible for me to organise accommodation there. But they have not given us any alternative.”


Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey said, “This is the fundamental breach of our national obligation. Ministers sort out the several failings in their Afghan scheme and honour the United Kingdom promise of safety, freedom, and the chance to contribute to the UK.”


His Labour colleague Dan Jarvis MP, who served as a soldier in Afghanistan, said: “The government’s non-success to get a grip on ARAP means we find ourselves in a farcical condition, where citizens who high risked their lives in support of our mission and have been promised protect passage to the United Kingdom are having to do the legwork and embark on the house-hunting mission if they want to get here.”


Maj. Gen. Charlie Herbert, who served three tours in Afghanistan, added: “It’s heartbreaking to think of how they’ve been treated — several over many years — and to leave them and their afghan families languishing indefinitely in the hotels in Islamabad with little confidence of onward movement to the United Kingdom is utterly disgraceful.”


Managing director Sarah Magill of the Free From Fear charity said: “We should’ve rolled out the red carpet for these brave citizens who served alongside our troops; instead, we’re locking them up like battery hens. We do not delay their evacuation a moment longer.”


A British government spokesperson said, “We owe a debt of gratitude to those interpreters and the other staff eligible under the ARAP scheme who worked for, or with, British forces in Afghanistan. The United Kingdom government has committed to relocate eligible Afghans and their families to the United Kingdom under the ARAP scheme and would honour this.


“We regularly support the movement of eligible citizens out of Afghanistan by working with a variety of partners and nations in the region. To date, we’ve relocated over 12,200 individuals to the UK under ARAP.”


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