Geordie Greig: US ‘shamed UK government to act’ on granting Afghan pilot asylum

The Editor-in-Chief’s comments come after the pilot was finally granted asylum in the UK following a five-month-long campaign by The Independent

Martha McHardy,Holly Bancroft
Thursday 24 August 2023 15:41 BST

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The US was on the verge of “shaming” Britain by giving the hero Afghan pilot who served alongside coalition forces asylum before the UK government eventually took action, The Independent’s Editor-in-Chief Geordie Greig has said.

The pilot was finally permission to stay in the UK after a five-month-long campaign by The Independent, backed by top politicians, military figures and celebrities.

The air force lieutenant, who fled the Taliban and came to the UK on a small boat because it was “impossible” to get here via a legal route, was previously rejected under the government’s Afghan resettlement scheme and threatened with deportation to Rwanda.

But in a shock U-turn, the government granted him refugee status this week.

“Britain has always had this reputation for opening its arms to those in need. We did it during the lead-up to the Second World War, we did it in the aftermath of the Second World War, we’ve done it for Ukraine. We promised those who were with us in Afghanistan who risked their lives that we would stand by them,” Mr Greig said in an interview with LBC.

“The irony for us is that America was on the verge of shaming Britain by offering this man a refuge, a place to stay.”

In June, The Independent revealed that the US Department of State was investigating whether to give safe haven to the Afghan pilot after UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace refused to intervene after the pilot’s application to the UK’s Afghan refugee scheme was rejected.

Mr Greig said it was “extraordinary” that the UK government threatened to deport the pilot to Rwanda “who offered to put his life at risk to fight alongside us as part of a coalition force.”

“It broke every covenant, every agreement, every pact of decency,” he said.

Speaking about the Home Office’s decision to grant the pilot asylum in the UK after The Independent’s campaign, Mr Greig said: “We’d been told at the very highest level, by the Ministry of Defence and No. 10 that this would not happen.

“They seem to be worried it was going to tip up their policy over small boats. It was going to ride a coach and horses through that. They put political primacy over principle.”

He continued: “I think they just lost their nerve and realised it would be impossible for them to not look totally shameful in sending someone who fought and had been alongside us at our moment of need, and we were going to send him on a plane, possibly in handcuffs, to Africa, and say ‘nothing to do with us’.”

The airman, who flew more than 30 sorties planned by British and US commanders against terrorist threats, was described as a “true patriot to his nation” by his US supervisor.

Reacting to the news of his plea to be allowed to stay in the UK, the pilot said he was “completely happy”.

But his battle is not over yet and he must now start the arduous process of applying to bring his wife and child, who are still in hiding in Afghanistan, to join him – a process that could take more than a year.

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