Inquiry after The Independent reveals Britain told Afghans fleeing to UK to get papers stamped by Taliban

Exclusive: Ministry of Defence apologised ‘unreservedly for this error’ after telling 37 people they must get documents approved by Taliban

Holly Bancroft
Social affairs correspondent
Sunday 19 March 2023 23:52 GMT
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Related: Video shows everyday things which are now illegal in Afghanistan under the Taliban

The Ministry of Defence has launched an investigation after The Independent revealed that Afghans were told they could come to safety in Britain only after their documents were approved by the Taliban.

The government confirmed on Sunday that UK officials had told 37 applicants to the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Police (Arap) scheme – designed to resettle those who worked directly with British forces – that they would need to provide papers that had been certified by Afghan government departments that have been run by the Taliban since the militant group seized power in August 2021.

The MoD initially denied the practice but has now apologised “unreservedly for this error”. Charities said those seeking to flee the country were being put in danger and one MP said the demand was like “asking them to sign their own death warrant”.

In an updated statement, an MoD spokesperson told The Independent a review would now be carried out.

They said: “Last month, we were notified of an error in recent communications with a group of Arap applicants, instructing them to verify documents with local authorities.

“The 37 affected applicants were notified of the error and have since responded to the correct instructions and confirmed they are currently safe.

“The MoD is now conducting a review to identify any further remedial actions needed to strengthen policies and processes.”

In one case, an Afghan interpreter was told to have his children’s birth certificates and his marriage certificate “validated” by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA). He eventually took his marriage certificate to the Taliban’s Ministry of Justice to get it verified but has been living in hiding, unable to work and waiting for relocation since.

In another case, an applicant, who was having trouble getting copies of his children’s birth certificates, was told: “These documents are an essential requirement and really need to be provided. They should be in English and bear the MoFA seal and other necessary department stamps.”

Members of the UK Armed Forces took part in the evacuation of people from Kabul airport in Afghanistan in 2021

According to the latest government estimates, there are around 4,600 people eligible for sanctuary in Britain under the Arap scheme, including dependent family members, who have not yet been relocated to the UK.

Afghans are now the largest nationality of small-boat migrants coming to the UK, having overtaken Albanians in recent months. Although official statistics show that more than 11,200 people have travelled to Britain under Arap, those numbers have dropped recently – with just 743 people resettled in the last quarter of 2022.

This is, however, significantly higher than the numbers being brought to the UK under the Home Office’s general Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), which aims to support at-risk and vulnerable Afghans who supported UK values in Afghanistan. So far only 22 Afghans have been settled from abroad under the ACRS scheme since the Taliban’s takeover in autumn 2021.

Tackled on the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions last week, Rishi Sunak said the UK takes its obligations to those who helped the government and served in Afghanistan “extremely seriously” through the two schemes in place.

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