Afghan pilot wife’s tearful plea to Rishi to save her family

’At times I even think death at the hands of the Taliban would be better than going through this mental torture’

Holly Bancroft
Social Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 01 August 2023 20:52 BST
Related video: The Independent pushes White House over Afghan pilot campaign

The wife of an Afghan pilot threatened with deportation to Rwanda has made an emotional plea to the UK government to give her family sanctuary in Britain.

The woman, who is in hiding in Afghanistan, said her family is paying a heavy price for her husband’s work with the British and that her life has become “dark and bleak” as they wait for help.

The pilot made the final leg of his journey to Britain in a small boat across the English Channel after fleeing Taliban rule, leaving his young family behind. But, on reaching the UK, the Afghan air force official did not receive the help he hoped for and was instead given a notice by the Home Office threatening him with deportation to Rwanda.

The pilot’s wife is despairing at the lack of help from Rishi Sunak’s government. Speaking for the first time since this newspaper raised the pilot’s plight, and in a message through her husband, she told The Independent: “When will this uncertainty end?”

She added: “The world has become dark and bleak for me, I don’t know what to do. I’m about to go crazy. We cannot go out because of the fear of Taliban. Our days and nights are spent in fear.”

Accusing the UK of failing to provide safe haven for the family, she added: “I am really tired of the situation. Believe me, it is clear that the government there does not want to help.”

Addressing him directly, she said: “It is obvious what your job role was and how you helped them. It really is an unappreciative and unreliable government.

“Unfortunately, we now have to pay a heavy price for your cooperation with them, and that is to be killed by the Taliban.”

After the fall of Kabul, the pilot waited in hiding for several months before making the heartbreaking decision to leave his wife and young family and find safe refuge. Knowing she could not make the perilous journey, his wife told him: “I put you into his hands. Go.”

But she said today: “I wish I could predict the future and knew what’s awaiting us. I would not have let you go.”

The pilot applied for settlement in the UK under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap), set up to bring those who helped British forces during the war to safety in the UK, but was turned down. He has now been left in limbo as he awaits a decision on his future.

She added: “At times I even think, death at the hands of the Taliban would be better than going through this mental torture by the waiting game of that government.”

She said the “only reason” she is alive is because of her “innocent” young family “who still know nothing”.

The Independent is campaigning for the pilot and other Afghan veterans to be given asylum in countries for whom they have risked their lives. Numerous military chiefs, politicians, and celebrities have backed the call.

The pilot is being considered for possible sanctuary in the US
The pilot is being considered for possible sanctuary in the US (The Independent)

With his asylum claim paused in the UK, the pilot has been forced to turn to the US for help with the White House pledging to “take care of the folks who helped us during the longest war in this country”.

He is being considered for possible sanctuary in the US under the P1 resettlement scheme, following a referral by a US official. He has had his initial relocation interview to determine his eligibility for the scheme, and has a follow-up interview later this month.

The Rwanda notice has still not been removed despite the UK’s Court of Appeal ruling that the government’s returns agreement is illegal. Without the notice being removed, the pilot’s asylum application cannot progress.

Members of the US senate have also backed calls for safe haven for the Afghan pilot, after the UK’s Ministry of Defence said he did not qualify for their resettlement scheme.

The airman, who was praised as a “patriot to his nation” by his coalition forces supervisor, said his family were “living in fear”. He added: “They can’t go anywhere. They can’t go outside. They are hardly living. My wife is depressed and she talks very disappointedly.

“They are waiting and asking me what is going on about my case. They ask me ‘when will we come?’ Sometimes I have to lie to them because I can’t tell them the truth.

“If I say the truth, it is too painful.”

Steve Smith, CEO of refugee charity Care4Calais and a former army colonel, said: “The Afghan veterans we are supporting, including the pilot, sacrificed so much to support UK forces but our government is slamming the door in their faces.

 “All they want is to have a safe future with their families in the UK. But rather than offering them the promised sanctuary, the government is delaying their asylum claims, threatening to remove them to Rwanda and leaving their families stuck in Afghanistan, hiding in fear every day from the Taliban.”

A UK government spokesperson said: “Whilst we do not comment on individual cases, we can confirm that all applications are rigorously assessed against the eligibility criteria published online.

“The Arap scheme was established for a defined cohort of Afghans who had worked directly for, or with, the UK armed forces. We have already relocated more than 12,200 Afghans under Arap and continue working to bring all those people eligible to safety in the UK.

“We understand the desire of Afghans now seeking to leave their country, however, we cannot support all former members of the Afghan security forces, who number in the hundreds of thousands.”

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