Rwanda Bill: Afghans who helped British troops beg Rishi Sunak to back deportation exemption

Rishi Sunak insists that government will not compromise with the House of Lords on Rwanda flights plan

Holly Bancroft
Social Affairs Correspondent
Monday 22 April 2024 16:11 BST
Peers face call to ‘calm down’ and allow Rwanda bill to clear parliament

Afghans who supported British troops have begged Rishi Sunak’s government to exempt them and their close family from deportation to Rwanda.

The prime minister is facing calls to offer a last-minute concession to peers who have been pushing for an exemption for asylum seekers who served alongside UK forces overseas.

MPs will vote again on the Rwanda Bill in the Commons today, before it is sent back to the Lords. The peers will then have to decide whether to cave to government pressure or vote again in favour of support for these Afghans.

One Afghan intelligence analyst who worked alongside members of the RAF, but who has now been threatened with removal to Rwanda, called on Mr Sunak to help the small number of asylum seekers in his position.

He said: “I call on the prime minister and the government to stand by the promise they made during the fall of Kabul. If the legal ways, such as Arap and ACRS (the two government relocation schemes) were actually working, people like me wouldn’t have to wait for years just for a response and wouldn’t be forced into taking a small boat to come to the UK.”

He added: “Being in limbo is nothing but a waste of the UK’s resources. I have the skills to contribute to the UK’s community and the tax system, but I have to rely on Home Office help, because I cannot work.”

An Afghan interpreter who worked for the British and was granted sanctuary in the UK under the MoD’s scheme said he was scared his two brothers and sister, who came to the UK on a small boat, would be deported to Rwanda.

Military chiefs and politicians wrote to Rishi Sunak in July asking him to work urgently to relocate those eligible to the UK but they have received no response
Military chiefs and politicians wrote to Rishi Sunak in July asking him to work urgently to relocate those eligible to the UK but they have received no response (Getty)

His siblings fled from Taliban threats after his whole family was put in danger through association with the interpreter. The MoD have since denied an application for the interpreter’s siblings to be given settled status in the UK.

Describing the risk they were under, he explained: “Everyone knew that I was working with the British army. The Taliban know everything. They came to my brother and beat him. He denied he knew me, and after that, that is when they left Afghanistan.”

The Afghan amendment to the Rwanda Bill would also exempt close family members from deportation. Prof Sara de Jong, Chair of the charity Sulha Alliance, who are supporting the interpreter, said the amendment was “absolutely crucial” because the “safe resettlement routes are neither fast nor reliable enough”.

No 10 have said that they will not offer any concessions, after apparently vetoing a compromise on the issue only hours before last week’s vote. Labour peer Lord Des Browne, who proposed the Afghan amendment, has also highlighted the plight of a handful of Afghan special forces who were paid by the British and who have made their way to the UK on small boat.

The Independent, along with newsroom Lighthouse Reports and Sky News, documented how dozens of these soldiers had been murdered or tortured by Taliban since the fall of Kabul. The Ministry of Defence has since admitted that they made mistakes by rejecting their pleas for UK relocation and are reviewing 2000 resettlement applications.

Peers, and one sole Tory rebel in the Commons Sir Robert Buckland, believe that the amendment to the Rwanda Bill can help these brave soldiers. A handful of these Afghans felt they had no choice but to take a small boat to the UK, after the Ministry of Defence failed to answer their calls for help.

Sir Robert, a former government minister, explained why he was backing the Afghan amendment to the Rwanda bill. Referring to members of the Afghan special forces, who are currently having their UK relocation applications reviewed, he said: “We don’t want to end up with people, who are having their applications reviewed by the MoD, who are stuck in Pakistan, we don’t want them to end up in a position where they’re being carted off in this scheme,” he said.

“It wasn’t designed for this sort of category [of people]. Despite all the progress we’ve made on bringing Afghans to safety in the UK, we don’t want to end up with unintended consequences where people who’ve risked their lives for our safety are then put into this scheme.”

Prof Sara de Jong, Chair of the charity Sulha Alliance, added: “"As the Government recently admitted, over 800 ARAP applicants have been waiting for over 1 year for a decision on their application. Others are still appealing wrongful rejections, made in error.

“Interpreters and their family members who did arrive by boat to the UK are terrified that they will be deported to Rwanda.”

One former UK military advisor who served in Afghanistan told The Independent: “There are Afghans in the UK who can prove they supported the efforts of Britain and its allies in Afghanistan at extreme personal risk. These aren’t gang members from Europe, or economic migrants from safe countries. They are the people most deserving of asylum.”

Referring to one such Afghan who he had worked with, who came to the UK on a small boat, he added: “It makes no economic or moral sense to deport a skilled, fluent English speaker with a university degree, ready to work and contribute to Britain, as he has done so already.”

Mr Sunak will use a press conference on Monday to set out the “robust” plans for getting flights carrying asylum seekers to Rwanda in the air.

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