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Afghan pilot’s impassioned plea to PM: I was proud to fight with British forces – so don’t deport me to Rwanda

Exclusive: Open letter begs Rishi Sunak to honour promise to help veterans like him, after he was forced to flee certain death at home and risk his life once more to arrive here by small boat

Holly Bancroft
Social affairs correspondent
Thursday 30 March 2023 16:08 BST
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The Afghan pilot has urged the prime minister to intervene to stop him from being deported
The Afghan pilot has urged the prime minister to intervene to stop him from being deported (Holly Bancroft)

The Afghan war hero facing deportation to Rwanda after arriving in the UK on a small boat has directly appealed to Rishi Sunak to give him sanctuary in Britain.

The air force lieutenant, who served alongside coalition troops, urged the prime minister to intervene in his case after finding no safe route to Britain from Afghanistan, where he had been in hiding.

Asking Mr Sunak to bring his family – left behind in Afghanistan – to safety, he also called for the same support for other veterans who served alongside British forces.

In a powerful entreaty to No 10, he wrote: “I trusted the British forces and was proud to work together as we protected each other from our common enemy. I hope you will now reflect on that mutual commitment as you read this letter.

“That commitment was made not just by myself, but by many brave men and women in Afghanistan, who now find themselves threatened by the Taliban and have no lawful means of escape.”

The Independent has launched a petition calling for the UK to support Afghan war heroes who served alongside Britain

It came as Sir Keir Starmer backed The Independent’s campaign to halt the pilot’s deportation. The Labour leader said it was “a disgrace” that a serviceman who fought alongside British troops faced “being forced out”.

The pilot, who was praised by his coalition forces supervisor as a “patriot to his nation”, says he was forced into hiding when the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021.

Describing his ordeal, he wrote: “When your forces left Afghanistan, the Taliban forced me into hiding. I managed to escape and, unable to find a safe route to Britain, took a dangerous journey across five countries before being forced to pay for a place on a small boat to cross the Channel to Britain.

“I asked for help in return for the help I once gave your people. Instead you have threatened to forcibly deport me to Rwanda.”

The pilot was praised by his coalition forces supervisor as a ‘patriot to his nation’ (The Independent)

The airman’s journey overland means he is eligible for deportation under the UK’s existing inadmissibility rules, which state that anyone who arrives having travelled through a safe country should be barred from claiming asylum in the UK and removed. The pilot, whom we have agreed not to name in order to protect his family who are still in Afghanistan, is now living in a Home Office hotel for asylum seekers.

In his letter, he tells Mr Sunak it is “simply untrue” that there are safe and legal routes to the UK.

“Men I served with are stuck in exile, faced with a return to certain death at home, or an illegal journey here,” he writes. “It is important that you grant these people protection in the country they risked their lives to help.”

After asking Mr Sunak to “honour the promises made to Afghan servicemen”, he asks the prime minister to do three things: withdraw the threat to send him to Rwanda; grant him full asylum in the UK; and allow him to reunite with his family.

‘I asked for help in return for the help I once gave your people. Instead you have threatened to forcibly deport me to Rwanda,’ he writes (The Independent)

“I had no choice but to leave my family, as my very presence in our home put them in danger, and it was impossible to bring them on my fugitive journey from Afghanistan to the UK. My family remain in some danger now, and I must get them out as soon as possible,” he says.

This week, Mr Sunak vowed to look at the case after it was raised by The Independent. He was pressed by the Conservative MP and chair of the Commons women and equalities committee Caroline Nokes when he appeared in front of the Commons liaison committee.

In the exchange, Ms Nokes asked Mr Sunak how the government would support Afghans who had worked alongside British forces but had arrived to the UK on small boats.

He responded by saying that “these are exactly the sort of people we want to help”. Ms Nokes pressed him, adding: “... which is why an Afghan pilot was highlighted in The Independent as having been given notification that he was likely to be removed to Rwanda.”

Mr Sunak told her he could not comment on individual cases, but asked for the details to be sent to him, saying: “I’ll happily make sure the Home Office have a look.”

Senior military and political figures, as well as diplomats, have lined up to demand that the airman is not sent to Rwanda.

Former defence minister Kevan Jones described the situation as “a stain on Britain’s great reputation”, while Sir Laurie Bristow, who was British ambassador to Afghanistan during the summer of 2021 and the fall of Kabul, warned that the lives of Afghans who “worked for us and with us ... are at risk as a result”.

General Sir Richard Barrons, a former chief of joint operations who served in Afghanistan, said the pilot’s route to the UK should not affect his chance of being granted asylum.

“This should not be complicated ... The fact that he went through other countries to get here is not surprising, considering the mess the government made with the evacuation process,” he said.

Tobias Ellwood, the chair of parliament’s defence select committee, said of the deportation threat: “This is not who we are as a nation.”

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