British Legion tells PM: Help Afghan war heroes who helped us

The charity, which represents 180,000 British veterans, commends The Independent’s campaign to stop deportation of Afghan pilot

Holly Bancroft
Social Affairs Correspondent
Saturday 22 April 2023 22:51 BST
<p>The charity joins more than 20 senior military chiefs and politicians who have lent their voices to the campaign</p>

The charity joins more than 20 senior military chiefs and politicians who have lent their voices to the campaign

The Royal British Legion has urged Britain to “honour its commitment” to help Afghan war heroes as it backed The Independent’s campaign to stop the threatened deportation of an Afghan fighter pilot.

The veterans’ charity said it was right to “question the deportation of any Afghan who served alongside British forces in the war against the Taliban”.

The Royal British Legion, which was established in 1921 and has 180,000 members, supports tens of thousands of armed forces personnel, veterans and their families each year.

Director general Charles Byrne said: “We encourage the government to promptly and fully assess those who are applying for support. It is vital that we remember the many Afghans who worked bravely alongside the British armed forces in Afghanistan.”

The charity joins more than 20 senior military chiefs and politicians who have lent their voices to the campaign. The Independent is calling on the government to give asylum to an Afghan pilot who arrived in the UK on a small boat and has now been threatened with deportation to Rwanda.

The Afghan pilot arrived in the UK on a small boat and is now being threatened with deportation to Rwanda

His story has highlighted the plight of many other Afghan war heroes who are resorting to dangerous routes to get to the UK.

The pilot is still waiting for a response to his open letter to Rishi Sunak, which calls on the prime minister to grant him asylum and reunite him with his family. Mr Sunak promised to ask the Home Office to look into the case, but the Home Office has so far refused to comment on this case.

The British Legion is currently helping Afghans who have been relocated to the UK under the Ministry of Defence’s Afghan relocations and assistance policy.

Mr Byrne went on: “The Royal British Legion commends The Independent’s campaign to stop or question the deportation of any Afghan who served alongside the British forces in the war against the Taliban. Britain should honour its commitment to help those who helped us.”

The Afghan air force lieutenant, who flew combat missions against the Taliban, was forced into hiding after the fall of Kabul in August 2021, and said it was “impossible” to make his way to Britain via a safe route.

He said he had been “forgotten” by the US and British forces he worked alongside, adding: “We worked with them and we helped them like they were our brothers. We are not Taliban, we are not Isis, so why are they leaving us like this?”

The veteran is worried for his family, who are still in Afghanistan, and said he is speaking out on their behalf.

The British Legion’s support comes after several senior military chiefs – including the former head of the army Sir Richard Dannatt, former Nato chief Lord Robertson, and General Sir Richard Barrons, a former chief of joint operations who served in Afghanistan – backed The Independent’s campaign and urged the government to look into the pilot’s case.

Other senior military figures who added their support include Air Marshal Edward Stringer, the former head of RAF forces in Afghanistan, and Admiral Lord West, former head of the Royal Navy, who said the government has a “duty” to look after those who fought alongside Britain.

The campaign has also garnered support politically, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer describing the treatment of the Afghan pilot as a “disgrace”. The chair of the defence select committee, Tobias Ellwood, said the pilot’s case has exposed a “gaping hole” in the UK’s asylum system, while Lord Dubs – a former child refugee who fled the Nazis before the Second World War – said the case was “absolutely shocking”.

Former international development secretary Rory Stewart said the pilot’s story is “profoundly shocking” because his treatment goes directly against the pledges made to those in Afghanistan.

This week, our campaign was backed by Piers Morgan, who has called on Mr Sunak to “do the right thing and give this hero a new life here”. Former marine commando Ben McBean also said he couldn’t see why “anyone would have an issue” with Afghan veterans being given a new home in the UK.

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

Data shows that the Afghan relocations and assistance policy scheme (Arap) has so far rejected 18,946 Afghans, while just 3,399 have been found eligible. Charities and MPs have warned that the criteria for the scheme are too narrow, and that hundreds of people who worked alongside British forces are being left behind.

Richard Dannatt (right) in Afghanistan in 2007

The general resettlement scheme for at-risk Afghans, the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, has only resettled 22 people since the initial evacuation, government data shows.

Mr Byrne said: “We are proud to currently be supporting hundreds of Afghans who relocated to the UK under the Afghan relations and assistance policy, and who have been designated by the Ministry of Defence as having a close UK defence connection, with everything from help getting employment to providing education and clothes for children, and we are committed to offering practical help as they resettle in their new lives in the UK.”

A government spokesperson said: “Whilst we don’t comment on individual cases, we remain committed to providing protection for vulnerable and at-risk people fleeing Afghanistan and so far have brought around 24,500 people impacted by the situation back to the UK.

“We continue to work with likeminded partners and countries neighbouring Afghanistan on resettlement issues, and to support safe passage for eligible Afghans.”

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