Home Office sent family back to Afghanistan a week before Kabul fell

Exclusive: Ministers accused of ‘unforgiveable mistake’ after family of five flown back to Afghanistan days before Taliban takeover

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Monday 28 February 2022 21:53 GMT
Children on the streets in Kabul
Children on the streets in Kabul (Jim Huylebroek/Save The Children)

The Home Office sent an asylum-seeking family back to Afghanistan a week before the fall of Kabul, leaving them “in danger” and afraid to leave their home.

Ministers have been accused of making an “unforgiveable mistake” after it emerged that a family of five – with children aged 15, nine and five – were returned to the Afghan capital under the UK’s voluntary returns scheme days before the Taliban takeover.

Shadow Home Office minister Holly Lynch said the decision to return the family days before Afghanistan fell to the Taliban was “shameful”, adding that the family “felt they had no choice” other than to agree to be sent back.

She added: “The government would have understood just how dangerous the deteriorating situation was on the ground. This is an unforgiveable mistake.”

The eldest child in the family, a teenage girl who cannot be named to protect their identity, said her family was “in danger” in Kabul and that her father can’t leave the house because he may be a target for the Taliban, and that there was “no school or education” in the city.

In an email exchange with her former head teacher in the UK on 30 September 2021, seen by The Independent, the girl wrote: “The Home Office have deported me and my family to Afghanistan because they told us that we can live in Kabul but it’s dangerous here and now there’s no school or education. So what do I do?

“They told my dad you can live in Kabul as Kabul is a safe place that’s why they refused the case.”

She goes on to state: “Me and my family are in danger as my dad can’t even go out the house people who worked for the old government aren’t allowed out as the Taliban’s won’t allow it […] When we came to Afghanistan that’s when the war started. We’re not allowed out of the country to a safe place.”

The Independent understands that the family claimed asylum in the UK in 2019 and their claim was refused by the Home Office, and that after trying to appeal the case for two years they agreed to be voluntarily returned to their home country by the British government.

The government’s voluntary returns scheme offers up to £3,000 in financial support to help people to leave the UK if they have been denied asylum or another form of immigration status in the country.

In her emails to the head teacher, the teenage daughter explained that during their two years in the UK her father was prevented from working and that the family received “no support”.

She added: “My dad wanted to have a job so that he could support us […] My parents didn’t have anymore patience.”

The teenage girl’s head teacher, who is not being named to protect the family’s identity, told The Independent the school has kept her on roll so that she can continue to access education remotely from Afghanistan.

He said he was concerned for the safety of the family, adding: “It’s horrific. It’s utterly immoral targeting young families, people who just want to make a life for themselves, who want to contribute to British society and are being penalised.

“It feels as though there’s this repressive state against a powerless minority and they’re exercising that power for political reasons. This is a young girl with all this potential in front of her and it has been ripped away from her, and there’s no attempt to try and support this family.”

Minnie Rahman, campaigns director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, accused the government of “treating many Afghans with cruelty and contempt”, adding: “As a direct result of this government’s abhorrent decision-making, families sent back are facing destitution and death.

“The British government must now do everything it can to grant safe passage to at-risk Afghans, ensure swift family reunion, and welcome those forced to flee via unofficial routes. This family and the thousands of Afghans with links to the UK deserve our protection.”

The Home Office announced the Afghan Citizen Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) last August, which vows to resettle 5,000 in its first year and up to 20,000 in future years.

But the scheme came under criticism earlier this month after it emerged that a third of the places promised had been given to people who are already in Britain – prompting fears that many still in Afghanistan will no longer be able to reach safety.

When asked by Ms Lynch about the case in the House of Commons on Monday, immigration minister Kevin Foster said he would be “very interested to meet with her to discuss it further”.

A Home Office spokesperson did not comment on the family’s case. They said: “The UK is taking a leading role in the international response to supporting at-risk Afghan citizens and has made one of the largest commitments to resettlement of any country.

“We undertook the biggest and fastest emergency evacuation in recent history, helping over 15,000 people at risk to safety in the UK, including thousands of women and girls.”

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