‘We must give him asylum’: Peer who fled Nazis accuses ministers of ‘cruelty’ over Afghan war hero

Lord Dubs urges Sunak and Braverman to stop hiding behind ‘bureaucracy’ and help a war veteran in need

Adam Forrest,Holly Bancroft
Tuesday 04 April 2023 16:55 BST
The Afghan war hero, whose face has been pixelated to protect his identity, in Westminster last month and, inset, in the cockpit
The Afghan war hero, whose face has been pixelated to protect his identity, in Westminster last month and, inset, in the cockpit (The Independent)

Rishi Sunak’s government has been accused of “totally cruel” treatment of an Afghan war hero threatened with deportation to Rwanda, as No 10 and the Home Office refused to say whether his case would be re-examined.

Lord Alf Dubs – a child refugee who fled the Nazis before the Second World War – said the idea of deporting a pilot who fought and fled the Taliban and arrived in the UK on a small boat was “absolutely shocking”.

The Labour peer called on the PM to make sure the veteran is allowed to stay. “If he risked his life for us, how can we possibly not consider giving him safety? The government must think again,” he said.

It is now one week since Mr Sunak told MPs he would “make sure the Home Office has a look” at the case, revealed by The Independent, of the Afghan pilot who is deemed to have arrived via an illegal route.

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 to the prime minister asking for help, saying it is an issue for the Home Office.

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.

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

The Ministry of Defence – the department that decides on eligibility for the officially-sanctioned Afghan veteran resettlement route – also told The Independent the pilot’s case was a matter for the Home Office.

Lord Dubs called on Mr Sunak and home secretary Suella Braverman to stop hiding behind “bureaucracy” and help a war veteran in need.

“I think it’s terrible – absolutely shocking,” he told The Independent. “The strongest possible claim someone can have is that they fought to help British forces. It’s totally cruel for bureaucracy to stop him from claiming asylum.”

The influential peer added: “Of course the prime minister should take an interest in this, and, if necessary, overrule the home secretary by saying this person has to be allowed to claim asylum. We have to give him asylum.”

Lord Dubs, who campaigns for refugee rights, said Britain owes Afghans who helped UK forces “a debt”, adding: “To which country should they flee but Britain – the one country they thought they would be welcome?”

Lord Dubs, who fled the Nazis, is veteran campaigner for refugees (PA)

The Labour figure said the government’s plan to deport those who arrive via small boats to Rwanda or countries the government has agreements with was “appalling”, adding: “It’s not right to deny people the right to make an asylum claim.”

He said: “My own story makes it ever more painful, because I’m shocked what we have come to. We’re turning our backs on the basic human rights principles that have characterised this country.”

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

In an email to the pilot, a Home Office said evidence that he had been in Italy, Switzerland and France 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 Afghan pilot in the cockpit of his aircraft (Supplied)

The veteran said that it had been “impossible” to make his way to Britain via a safe route, adding: “What safe and legal way was there after the fall of Afghanistan?”

Afghans account for the largest number of small boat migrants, with more 9,000 having made the crossing in 2022.

The Afghan relocations and assistance policy (ARAP) scheme, designed to bring those who helped British forces during the war to the UK, has so far brought more than 11,000 people to safety.

Former Nato chief Lord Robertson has backed The Independent’s campaign against deporting the Afghan war veteran – saying it would be an “indefensible disgrace” if the Home Office sent the pilot to Rwanda.

Gen Sir Richard Barrons, a former chief of joint operations who served in Afghanistan, is among the military figures to urge the government to look into his case, along with ex-defence secretaries Tobias Ellwood, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Kevan Jones.

A Home Office spokesperson said last week that the department remains “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”.

They added: “We continue to work with like-minded partners and countries neighbouring Afghanistan on resettlement issues, and to support safe passage for eligible Afghans.”

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