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Afghan war hero must be ‘special case’ to stay in UK, says ex-British Army chief

Exclusive: Lord Dannatt backs Independent campaign to stop Afghan who served with British forces being deported to Rwanda

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
,Holly Bancroft
Sunday 09 April 2023 22:47 BST
Rishi Sunak questioned on The Independent’s investigation on Afghan ‘hero’ facing deportation

A former head of the British Army has backed The Independent’s campaign to stop the threatened deportation of an Afghan war veteran to Rwanda – saying the pilot is a “special case” for asylum.

Sir Richard Dannatt said there was a “flaw” in the government policy if Afghans who helped British forces could be deported in the crackdown on small boat crossings.

“Clearly there is a flaw in evolving British policy,” Lord Dannatt told The Independent. “While the pressure is on to reduce small boat crossings, Afghans who have worked with the British, like this pilot, must be a special case.”

Sir Richard Dannatt (right) in Afghanistan in 2007 (PA)

Lord Dannatt said the former Afghan force pilot – who fought against and had to flee the Taliban – should be eligible for the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap) refugee scheme.

The former chief of general staff added: “Those in touch with him must advise him to apply for the Arap scheme and not take no for an answer. The Home Office should be passed his details in order to lift him out of the general mass of small boat illegal entrants.”

His comments come after charities and MPs criticised the Arap scheme criteria – which states that applicants must have worked directly for the UK government – as being too narrow.

Data shows the scheme has rejected 18,946 Afghans, while just 3,399 have been found eligible. Sarah Fenby, of NGO Global Witness, said hundreds of Afghans who worked alongside British forces are being left behind and “massively exposed”.

The Afghan pilot – who flew dozens of missions against the Taliban and was praised by his US coalition forces supervisor as a “patriot to his nation” – claims he has been “forgotten”.

The Home Office has told him that evidence that he had travelled across Europe before reaching the UK could have “consequences for whether your claim is admitted to the UK asylum system”, adding: “[The pilot] may also be removable to Rwanda.”

The former Afghan force pilot fought against the Taliban (The Independent)

But the war veteran said that it had been “impossible” to make his way to Britain via an authorised scheme, adding: “What safe and legal way was there after the fall of Afghanistan?”

Former Tory cabinet minister David Davis said there “must be a mechanism” for looking at the asylum cases of the Afghan pilot and all those who helped British forces in Afghanistan – even if they crossed the Channel in a small boat.

Mr Davis told The Independent: “We have a moral responsibility to people who are our allies. There must be a mechanism for looking at his case. There must a mechanism for considering people who put their life on the line.”

The former SAS reservist added: “It demonstrates we don’t have a workable [asylum] policy at the moment. Until you have safe and legal routes it’s hazardous to do what the government is doing.”

Dominic Raab grilled on Independent’s Afghan pilot investigation during Today Show

Labour’s Jessica Morden, MP for Newport East, said she had met Afghan military veterans who are now settled in her constituency “who remain in limbo” about their status in the UK.

Ms Morden said: “We owe so much to the Afghan interpreters and military personnel who served alongside our armed forces.

“The fact is that some of these men, who risked everything to work alongside the British Army, are having to resort to making treacherous journeys to get to the UK when the government’s schemes should be supporting them and not delaying and rejecting them.”

Former army captain Mike Crofts, who served two tours in Afghanistan, also backed the campaign – saying it highlighted the inadequacy of the existing refugee routes.

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

“The government’s abandonment of Afghan soldiers who served the UK cause in Afghanistan is further indictment of a failed approach to immigration,” he said.

Mr Crofts added: “This case only serves to highlight the motivation behind many using boat crossings. The so-called legal routes into the UK exist only in name.”

Rishi Sunak said he would “make sure the Home Office has a look” at the case of the Afghan pilot. But No 10 refused to comment on the case, or say whether Mr Sunak would respond to the letter the Afghan air force fighter wrote asking for help.

The Home Office has also refused to say whether it would consider removing the deportation threat while it considers his asylum claim – and continues to insist it cannot comment on the plight of an individual.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has said the treatment of the Afghan pilot was “a disgrace”, while Lord Alf Dubs – a child refugee who fled the Nazis before the Second World War – said the case was “absolutely shocking”.

Former Nato chief Lord Robertson and Gen Sir Richard Barrons, a former chief of joint operations who served in Afghanistan, are among the military figures urging the government to look into the pilot’s case.

Meanwhile, polling for The Independent from Savanta ComRes found just 23 per cent voters think the government is giving enough support to desperate Afghans trying to escape their home country after working with Britain.

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